The Roots of the Benghazi Frenzy

Regular readers know that I am deeply puzzled by the GOP frenzy over what happened in Benghazi. Sure, before the election I can see how it might have been misperceived as a “game changer,” not to mention as catnip for the small but noisy faction of conservative gabbers who always thought foreign relations provided the best optic for exposing the “un-American” nature of the Obama political enterprise.

But the election has come and gone, and if anything, Benghazi-centric talk has escalated on the Right. It was instantly the subject that conservatives decided to bring up after the Petraeus mess came to light. And it’s the angle Republican senators have chosen to use to derail the possible nomination of Susan Rice as Secretary of State. It’s highly reminiscent of Fast & Furious, in the sense that it’s in all likelihood a less-than-earth-shaking screwup that’s being elevated into a Vast Conspiracy and a Signature Moment for the Right, and only the Right. And it runs right into the factual problem that Republican presidents have overseen far more consequential screw-ups, dating back at least to the Sainted Ronald Reagan’s horrific failures in Lebanon.

Well, the ever-insightful Paul Waldman has offered his own theory about the Benghazi Frenzy at TAP, and it’s certainly plausible:

So what’s going on here? I can sum it up in two words: scandal envy. Republicans are indescribably frustrated by the fact that Barack Obama, whom they regard as both illegitimate and corrupt, went through an entire term without a major scandal. They tried with “Fast and Furious,” but that turned out to be small potatoes. They tried with Solyndra, but that didn’t produce the criminality they hoped for either. Obama even managed to dole out three-quarters of a trillion dollars in stimulus money without any graft or double-dealing to be found. Nixon had Watergate, Reagan had Iran-Contra, Clinton had Lewinsky, and Barack Obama has gotten off scott-free. This is making them absolutely livid, and they’re going to keep trying to gin up a scandal, even if there’s no there there. Benghazi may not be an actual scandal, but it’s all they have handy.

Maybe that’s it: just an ill-repressed desire to “expose” the underlying rottenness of the Obama administration they all believe in, and an effort to get his second term off to a bad start with congressional GOP “investigators” holding the whip hand. But you do have to wonder about the psychology of a political party that’s just lost a big election making its first big move an appeal to its radicalized conservative base, which is what this fundamentally represents.

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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.