Jonathan Chait looks back on those days not very long ago when the media was obsessed by scandals involving the Obama administration now that the claims of scandal have been debunked.
Do you remember how all-consuming the “Obama scandals” once were? This was a turn of events so dramatic it defined Obama’s entire second term — he was “waylaid by controversies,” or at least “seriously off track,” “beset by scandals,” enduring a “second-term curse,” the prospect of “endless scandals,” Republicans “beginning to write his legislative obituary,” and Washington had “turned on Obama.” A ritualistic media grilling of Jay Carney, featuring the ritualistic comparisons of him to Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler, sanctified the impression of guilt.
After providing evidence as to why the IRS scandal was not a true scandal involving Obama, Chait resumed:
Why did we think the agency was targeting only conservatives? Because apparently Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, ordered the agency to audit its treatment of tea-party groups, and only tea-party groups. The IRS dutifully reported it was indeed targeting tea-party groups; everybody assumed it was doing no such thing to liberal groups. The IRS inspector general is defending its probe, but the IRS’s flagging of conservative groups seems, at worst, to be marginally stricter than its flagging of liberal groups, not the one-sided political witch hunt potrayed by early reports.
What about the rest of the scandals? Well, there aren’t any, and there never were. Benghazi is a case of a bunch of confused agencies caught up in a fast-moving story trying to coordinate talking points. The ever-shifting third leg of the Obama scandal trifecta — Obama’s prosecution of leaks, or use of the National Security Agency — is not a scandal at all. It’s a policy controversy. One can argue that Obama’s policy stance is wrong, or dangerous, or a threat to democracy. But when the president is carrying out duly passed laws and acting at every stage with judicial approval, then the issue is the laws themselves, not misconduct.
The whole Obama scandal episode is a classic creation of a “narrative” — the stitching together of unrelated data points into a story. What actually happened is this: House Republicans passed a twisted account of a hearing to ABC’s Jonathan Karl, who misleadingly claimed to have seen it, creating the impression that the administration was caught in a major lie. Then the IRS story broke, which we now see was Republicans demanding a one-sided audit and thus producing the impression of one-sided treatment. In that context, legitimate controversies over Obama’s civil-rights policies became the “three Obama scandals,” exposing a government panopticon, if not a Nixonian administration bent on revenge.
The collapse of the Benghazi story happened very quickly, when Jake Tapper’s reporting found that Karl had peddled a bogus story. (It’s notable that the only misconduct in both the Benghazi and the IRS stories was committed by House Republicans.) But the scandal cloud lingered through the still-extant IRS scandal, which in turn lent the scandal odor to the civil-liberties dispute. Now that the IRS scandal has turned into a Darrell Issa scandal, we’re left with … an important dispute over domestic surveillance, which has nothing to do with scandal at all. The entire scandal narrative was an illusion.
The biggest scandals here are that Republicans are misusing their positions to fabricate scandals, including hiding testimony from the American people which doesn’t support their false narrative.