A Benghazi! Unicorn

It’s probably premature to project one moment of comity even a moment into the future. But the first public hearing of the House select committee investigating the incidents in Benghazi, Libya (in this one case I won’t use the dramatic italics and exclamation point) two years ago was so shockingly calm that the usually cynical Dana Milbank of WaPo was billing and cooing, as were committee Democrats:

[W]hen the South Carolina Republican chaired his panel’s first public hearing Wednesday, Gowdy did something completely unexpected: He played it straight.

There was no discussion of talking points or stand-down orders, and only one of the seven Republicans on the panel — Jim Jordan of Ohio — even mentioned Clinton. Instead, Gowdy adopted as the theme of his first hearing an idea suggested by one of the committee’s Democrats, Adam Schiff of California: How well the State Department has been implementing recommendations to prevent future attacks on U.S. diplomats like the one in Libya two years ago that killed four Americans.

This is exactly what congressional oversight should be: a bipartisan effort by legislators to make sure executive-branch officials don’t repeat past mistakes. The resulting bonhomie was unprecedented in the two years of Benghazi bickering.

“I thank you for holding this hearing today,” Elijah Cummings (Md.), the panel’s hard-nosed ranking Democrat, told Gowdy. “. . . I want to thank our colleague Representative Schiff for proposing the topic for today’s hearing, and, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for accepting that topic.”

Now it’s possible Gowdy will be taken to the woodshed by other Republicans (not to mention the conservative media that has made Benghazi! a sort of national security counterpart to Agenda 21), and come back snarling and ranting. But for the first time since September 11, 2012, the subject is being discussed by Republicans in an atmosphere that isn’t reminiscent of a Tea Party street rally.

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.