Issa As Ahab

Lord know where the FastnFuror is ultimately headed; perhaps towards a sort of cartoon Gotterdammerung, perhaps to a deal where House Republicans accept a few thousand documents from the Justice Department and declare victory.

The whole thing actually makes more sense as one man’s crazy pursuit finally achieving its obsessive goal. Whatever else is going on, from farce to expose of law enforcement excesses on up to a full-blown constitutional crisis, there’s no question Rep. Darrell Issa has managed to maneuver the U.S. House and a Cabinet secretary into his own private theater of the absurd. Salon‘s Alex Seitz-Wald takes a good look at Franknfuror from that perspective:

California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, finally got his big trophy and moment in the cable news sun today when his committee voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, following nearly seven hours of testimony on the ATF’s botched “Fast and Furious” gun scandal.

The action, which came in spite of a last-minute move by the White House to claim executive privilege, now tees up the full GOP-controlled House to hold Holder in contempt, which it is expected to do soon. The vote is arguably a partisan witch hunt, but it’s also a long time coming and a rare big win for Issa, who entered his chairmanship with an extremely ambitious agenda that has largely fizzled….

Issa [has] often ended up shooting blanks…. His investigations into WikiLeaks, Fannie and Freddie, the FDA, and countless others have failed to expose any massive wrongdoing by the administration and after a year and half, he has little to show for them….

Other investigations bordered on fringe absurdism, like when he asked the Department of Justice to investigate ACORN more than a year after it went extinct. There was also the hearing he held probing the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, which famously included a panel featuring zero women….

So today’s vote is critical to Issa’s legacy, helping to salvage an otherwise disappointing tenure. And despite the contempt vote, Fast and Furious has proven a slog, taking over a year and half after being largely ignored by the non-Fox News media (Fox covered it plenty). Rush Limbaugh today to a caller frustrated by the slow pace of Issa’s investigation into Holder: “You could, on the other hand, credit Issa for delaying this until an election year when more people are paying attention, when it’ll have more impact.”

This kind of sums up how Congress winds up in situations like FastnFuror, and why so many Americans persistently hate the whole institution: who cares about Darrell Issa’s “legacy” as an investigative titan, other than Darrell Issa and his staff? Yet he’s in a position to use taxpayer resources to build monuments to himself from the flimsy raw material of administration misdeeds and right-wing fantasies. But would anyone really miss him and his investigations if he suddenly went back to California and entered a monastery for a few years of prayer and penitence? The people having fun with Franknfuror are going to believe what they’re going to believe regardless of hearings or evidence. Beyond that, it really is a sort of private production for the ego-gratification of House Republican leaders, and for Issa, a crowning Ahab moment.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.