Tripping Over the Threshold Of an Actual Issue

The most intense day-after spin from the second presidential debate involves the bizarre exchange near the end when Romney accused the president of lying in saying he had referred to “acts of terror” in his Rose Garden statement the day after the killings in Benghazi, and then moderator Candy Crowley confirming that the president had in fact used that term.

Conservatives are beside themselves today attacking Crowley for intervening, and also claiming that although she was technically right, Romney was ultimately correct in accusing the administration of insufficient clarity in blaming the killings on jihadist terrorist groups.

To which I reply: too bad. This is what can happen when demagogues make a slip.

Conservatives have now had over a month to tie their endless finger-pointing over the events in Benghazi to some larger theme, and have basically failed. If I were them, I’d probably argue the whole series of incidents shows that the administration (and Democrats generally) think the Global War on Terror–which they never much believed in to begin with–ended with the killing of Osama bin Laden, and have been proven very dangerously wrong. But instead, some conservative have gotten distracted by their Islamophobia into going nuts over the administration’s “apologies” for an obnoxious video, and others have gotten distracted by their lust for war with Iran into making this all about “signals” of America’s “lack of resolve.” And Mitt Romney’s done a little of everything without much clarity.

Last night he stumbled on the threshold of another opportunity to make the Libya killings a major issue by getting an important fact wrong. Had he not done so, he would have still probably devolved into incoherent non sequiturs about the killings somehow emboldening Iran or upsetting the Only Ally In the Whole Wide World Who Matters, Bibi Netanyahu. I suppose he’ll have another few days to get his argument together before the final debate. But the idea that he got “hosed by the ref” at Hofstra is absurd. He planned a hit on Obama, and just screwed it up.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.