Expect limitless, relentless witch hunts

EXPECT LIMITLESS, RELENTLESS WITCH HUNTS…. When thinking about what to expect from a Republican takeover of Congress, different scenarios come to mind. Sure, any hopes of advancing meaningful legislation are effectively off the table, and the prospect of a government shutdown seems fairly realistic.

But it’s the endless investigations that would get tiresome. Politico reported the other day that Republicans “are planning a wave of committee investigations targeting the White House and Democratic allies if they win back the majority.”

Paul Krugman explained today that it’s “going to be very, very ugly.”

…I’m not talking about the rage of the excluded and the dispossessed: Tea Partiers are relatively affluent, and nobody is angrier these days than the very, very rich. Wall Street has turned on Mr. Obama with a vengeance: last month Steve Schwarzman, the billionaire chairman of the Blackstone Group, the private equity giant, compared proposals to end tax loopholes for hedge fund managers with the Nazi invasion of Poland.

And powerful forces are promoting and exploiting this rage. Jane Mayer’s new article in The New Yorker about the superrich Koch brothers and their war against Mr. Obama has generated much-justified attention, but as Ms. Mayer herself points out, only the scale of their effort is new: billionaires like Richard Mellon Scaife waged a similar war against Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, the right-wing media are replaying their greatest hits. In the 1990s, Mr. Limbaugh used innuendo to feed anti-Clinton mythology, notably the insinuation that Hillary Clinton was complicit in the death of Vince Foster. Now, as we’ve just seen, he’s doing his best to insinuate that Mr. Obama is a Muslim. Again, though, there’s an extra level of craziness this time around: Mr. Limbaugh is the same as he always was, but now seems tame compared with Glenn Beck.

And where, in all of this, are the responsible Republicans, leaders who will stand up and say that some partisans are going too far? Nowhere to be found. […]

It will be an ugly scene, and it will be dangerous, too. The 1990s were a time of peace and prosperity; this is a time of neither. In particular, we’re still suffering the after-effects of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, and we can’t afford to have a federal government paralyzed by an opposition with no interest in helping the president govern. But that’s what we’re likely to get.

I’d just add one related thought. The Politico piece on the expected witch hunts, highlighting right-wing lawmakers “quietly gearing up for a possible season of subpoenas,” offered a list of “six possible committee investigations if Republicans take back the House in November.” The possibilities are probably predictable to those who follow current events: a job offer to Joe Sestak, rescuing the auto industry, the New Black Panther Party, ACORN, etc.

That’s no doubt accurate, but it’s missing a relevant detail: some of the likely investigations will cover stuff that’s just made-up. In the Clinton era, House Republicans held hearings on garbage that was manufactured out of thin air, and subpoenas were issued just for the sake of issuing subpoenas.

There’s every reason to believe it would be worse in 2011 and 2012.