Wandering Down the Hall of Mirrors

One of the weird things about Benghazi! is that it’s an issue discussed endlessly on the Right and barely at all on the Left (this is one of several ways in which the “scandal” resembles Fast ‘n’ Furious, the last big conservative freak-out that made little or no sense to anyone else). After we got beyond the actual events and the immediate follow-up, the MSM, best as I can tell, took it seriously when conservatives brought it up in other contexts, from the end-game of the presidential contest to the Hagel nomination.

NPR’s Ari Shapiro has essayed something rare: an MSM assessment of the Benghazi! phenomenon in all its skewed partisan glory. Here’s a sample:

Benghazi has become a sort of catchword. To Republicans, it symbolizes everything bad about the Obama administration. It’s not the first word to fill that role. At the start of the president’s first term, it was Obamacare. Later, Solyndra.

Now Benghazi helps Republicans raise money, fire up the base and take a whack at the guy in charge. And in this case, unlike with Obamacare or Solyndra, the administration acknowledges it screwed up.

“We need to make sure that never happens again,” says Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman. “We all have a role in this. And when the focus gets politicized — when words like ‘cover-up’ are used, when we’re focused only on talking points, not what do these individuals need to keep them safe — that’s when I think we kind of miss the runway.”

Beyond the pressure cookers of Congress and AM talk radio, even many Republicans agree that the debate over Benghazi has moved away from substance into a political hall of mirrors.

“I missed the meeting among Republicans where it was decided this would become an angry cause célèbre that should be pursued at all costs and with no holds barred,” says Republican strategist Ed Rogers.

Not to mention “forever and ever, world without end.” But I digress.

There was a substantive investigation into the attacks. Retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering co-chaired the independent commission. The State Department accepted all of his recommendations. One employee resigned, and three were placed on administrative leave. That was two months ago.

Now, Pickering says, the Benghazi debate is in a new chapter.

“The political questions will obviously continue as long as people feel there’s political mileage to be made of them,” Pickering says.

When asked if that’s par for the course in Washington, Pickering says, “I think this is quite unusual. This is the first time that this kind of a review has been so politicized.”

Shapiro goes on to quote Tad Devine suggesting that GOPers are using this to deal with their lost advantage on foreign policy and national security issues. There are much more obvious political motives in individual cases of Benghazi!-mania like Lindsey Graham’s: he’s up for re-election next year in a state whose Republican Party is among the nation’s most rabidly ideological; having some network TV footage of him savaging the hated Obama and the hated Hillary for their Muslim-coddling, America-hating ways is worth it’s weight in gold.

And that may be the real source of Benghazi!-fever. Just as Fast ‘n’ Furious connected conservative anxieties about immigration and guns, Benghazi! has both a national security and a religious element: In their handling of Benghazi!, Obama and company were stomping on the constitutional rights of good Christians just trying to tell the truth about Islam, in order to disguise their helplessness if not complicity over Muslim terrorists killing Americans.

So the “scandal” can’t end until the Christ-hating secular socialists running the White House and State Department admit their evil motives. It will never die unless displaced by something equally evocative of right-wing theories that Explain It All.

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.