Democratic Strategy For 2014: Get Out The Vote But Don’t Ignore The Message

This should be a bad year for Democrats if we go by historical trends. The party holding the presidency typically loses Congressional seats in their sixth year. It makes matters worse when their are economic problems, even if many people do realize that they are primarily due to a combination of problems created by the Bush administration and problems perpetuated by Republican actions to hinder economic recovery in Congress.

Making matters worse, the Democrats have to defend Senate seats in red states, including states where incumbent Democrats are not running for reelection. Democrats do worse in off year elections, when young voters and minorities are less likely to vote compared to presidential elections. Republicans also have a huge advantage in a system where small Republican states receive as many Senators as far larger Democratic states. Their advantage extends to the house. Between gerrymandering and the higher concentration of Democrats in cities. Republican will still control Congress unless Democrats receive about seven percent more votes.

On top of this, Republicans see voter suppression as a valid electoral strategy.

Democrats did much better in 2008 and 2012 than in 2010. They also expect to do much better in 2016, including picking up several Senate seats due to the playing field being reversed with Republicans being forced to defend Senate seats in blue states. The Democrats see the solution as making 2014 more like 2012. Their strategy:

The Democrats’ plan to hold on to their narrow Senate majority goes by the name “Bannock Street project.” It runs through 10 states, includes a $60 million investment and requires more than 4,000 paid staff members. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is preparing its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get-out-the-vote and persuasion efforts.

They hope to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers, said Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director.

A campaign based upon getting out the vote isn’t terribly exciting, but it is a realization that this is how elections are won in this polarized era. There aren’t very many swing voters, but there can be huge differences between which party does better in getting their supporters out to vote.

Besides, a high tech get out the vote campaign and an old fashioned campaign to try to sway voters are not mutually exclusive. I do hope that the Democrats also think about better ways to get out their message as the Republicans often win by doing a better job here. Sure the Republican message is pure lies, claiming to be the party of small government while supporting increased government intrusion in the lives of individuals, and primarily using big government to redistribute wealth to the top one tenth of one percent.

Democrats need a coherent message, but they often fail because they are afraid of alienating some voters by saying what they believe in. I suspect that this cowardice turns off even more voters, along with reducing the motivation of their supporters to turn out. Once again, a campaign based upon promoting ideas and one based upon voter turnout are not mutually exclusive. They can be complimentary.

Rather than shying away from social issues, Democrats need to campaign as the party which supports keeping government out of our personal lives and out of the bedroom.

Rather than running away from the Affordable Car e Act, Democrats need to stress its benefits. Beyond all the millions who are assisted by the ability to obtain affordable health coverage, there are the two million people who are freed from the “insurance trap” which forces them to work in jobs they do not otherwise want or need in order to obtain health insurance. As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has shown, the Affordable Care Act will help reduce unemployment, decease the deficit, and strengthen the economy. Besides, we saw what happened to the Democrats when they tried running away from Obamacare in 2010.

In recent years Democrats have taken national security away from Republicans as an issue. If the Republicans want to run on their debunked conspiracy theories about Benghazi, it might be time for Democrats to remind voters of the very real failings of Republicans on 9/11, from ignoring warnings before the attack to invading the wrong country in retaliation. We saw how that turned out. It is also time for Democrats to take additional issues from the Republicans.

Challenge voters who support Republicans based upon misinformation. If they are concerned about the deficit, point out how much the deficit has dropped under Obama (as it previously dropped under Bill Clinton). Repeatedly we see polls in which voters support liberal positions but identify themselves as conservatives. They say the oppose Obamacare but also support most of the individual components of the Affordable Care Act. The only way to fight the misinformation spread by Fox is for Democrats to clearly say what they believe in and defend their positions.

Democrats are planning to run on income inequality. That is fine, but they better make sure that they make it clear that the reason is that the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the top one tenth of one percent is a major cause of crippling the economy and keeping down the middle class. Failure to make this connection just plays into Republican memes.

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The Surprising Lack Of Scandals In The Obama Administration

The recent scandals released about Chris Christie remind us of how often we expect to find scandals in government. Power does corrupt. We have become so accustomed to scandals at the top levels of government that it almost comes as a surprise that the Obama administration has been so free of scandal. Some observers almost take it for granted that a scandal must happen sooner or later. For example, back in 2011 Brendan Nyhan described this as an aberration, waiting for an inevitable scandal to occur:

Obama has been extremely fortunate: My research (PDF) on presidential scandals shows that few presidents avoid scandal for as long as he has. In the 1977-2008 period, the longest that a president has gone without having a scandal featured in a front-page Washington Post article is 34 months – the period between when President Bush took office in January 2001 and the Valerie Plame scandal in October 2003. Obama has already made it almost as long despite the lack of a comparable event to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Of course when speaking of the Obama administration as being free of scandal, I am speaking of real world facts, not the fantasy world of Fox and the right wing noise machine. They have invented plenty of scandals, but in every case their claims were contradicted by the facts. Just this week we had the Senate Intelligence Committee report which debunked the Republican conspiracy theories regarding Benghazi.

When Paul Waldman wrote about how the Republican claims about Solyndra didn’t hold up, he entitled his post Obama Administration Oddly Scandal-Free, again suggesting how the presence of scandals has become what is expected. Paul Waldman recently reviewed this topic again in a post entitled The Scandalous Lack of Obama Administration Scandals. (Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan, who also provides many of the earlier links in this post). He set up these reasonable conditions for what constitutes a scandal:

So let’s take a look back and see what happened to all these affairs that never turned out to be the scandals conservatives hoped they would be. Just to be clear, when I use the word “scandalous” in this list, I don’t mean “bad.” When you say, for instance, that there has been little evidence of anything scandalous occurring in Benghazi, conservatives often reply, “Four people died!” Indeed they did, and that was terribly tragic, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a scandal. Two hundred and forty-one Americans died in the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon, but it wouldn’t be accurate to call that a “Reagan administration scandal,” because while there were some bad decisions made with awful results, there wasn’t any criminality or corruption or cover-up, the things we usually associate with scandals.

To make a truly meaningful administration scandal, you need two things. First, there has to be some kind of criminal or morally atrocious behavior somewhere, which we can put under the general heading of “malfeasance.” People doing their jobs poorly isn’t enough to make it a scandal. Second, you need the involvement of highly-placed administration officials. Only an affair with both features is a scandal. If a ranger at Denali National Park in Alaska is found to be running a moose-based prostitution ring, that’s only an administration scandal if people high up in the administration knew about it.

Waldman looked at all those scandals which truly dishonest politicians such as Darrel Issa are wasting tax-payers money with faux investigations on. (I am linking to this in case anyone doubts that this attitude really comes from the Republican Party, and not just the clowns in the right wing media who are making these bogus claims.) Waldman looked at Solyndra, Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS, and aggressive leak investigations. In each case, the conservative claims have not held up. He concluded:

So what can we conclude from all this? There are three possible explanations for the lack of a major scandal in the Obama administration. The first is that something truly horrific has gone on, but as of yet it hasn’t been discovered. The second is that the scandals we know about haven’t been fully investigated, and will eventually yield more wrongdoing than we currently understand. And the third is that the administration has not, in fact, committed any horrible crimes. Which seems most likely?

That isn’t to say that they haven’t made plenty of mistakes, because they have. And there are three years left in Obama’s term, so you never know—maybe someone will discover that he’s having an affair with Jennifer Lawrence, or that Valerie Jarrett is a mole for the Yakuza, or that those FEMA concentration camps are real. But there’s also the chance that he’ll end his term without any major scandal, which would be quite something.

A final note: The question of whether we should think of NSA spying as a scandal in these terms is a complicated one that I’m going to have to leave for another day.

And he didn’t even mention the widely held conservative belief of a conspiracy to pass off a foreign-born Muslim Socialist as an American citizen.  Claims of an affair with Jennifer Lawrence from the right are not that far-fetched in light of this. As for NSA spying, I think this falls in the category of policies we disagree with, but not a political scandal.

Regarding the lack of scandal in the Obama administration, the simple explanation might be what Andrew Sullivan previously suggested–that he is not corrupt. I suspect that the explanation might also come down to a difference in how different people see government and where they have come from. Scandals may have become more prevalent in Republican administrations because many on the right oppose the American system of government and do not see it as a force which can be used for good. To them, government is evil and they see nothing wrong for using it for their own ends when in power. In contrast Obama sees the actual functions of government as something worthy of pursuing as an end in itself. Many top government leaders come from positions of wealth and power and seek to increase this as much as possible. Even top positions in government are not necessarily enough for their lust for power. For a former community organizer and someone who not long ago was no more powerful than a member of the Illinois State Senate, the presidency is enough.

This is all quite frustrating for those on the right who seek to attack Obama as corrupt, forcing them to make up a long list of fallacious attacks.

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Hillary Clinton Might Win Nomination Without Opposition–Unless Brian Schweitzer Counts

After looking at bad news for the presumed front runners for the 2016 presidential nominations, and criticism of Hillary Clinton’s conservative record, the speculation today is that Hillary Clinton might still take the nomination with no real opposition. This speculation was precipitated by an announcement that California Governor Jerry Brown will not run. A few years ago, who would have even thought that this would be news? The response from First Read:

Here’s something for political reporters and pundits to chew on: It’s more likely that Hillary Clinton would face only gadfly opposition in a 2016 Democratic primary (we’re looking at you, Dennis Kucinich) — rather than a competitive challenger. California Gov. Jerry Brown has become the latest Democrat to rule out a presidential bid. The Los Angeles Times: “Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday that he will not run for president in 2016, dashing political speculation that he might make a fourth bid for the White House. ‘No, that’s not in the cards. Unfortunately,’ he told reporters at a news conference before brightening about his current job: ‘Actually, California is a lot more governable.’” Already, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has said no. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he won’t run if Hillary does. And while former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is certainly dipping his toes into the presidential waters, he did the same thing regarding the state’s vacant Senate seat — and remember how that turned out. American politics is full of surprises. But right now, the smart money is on Hillary facing little to no opposition if she runs in 2016.

It is hard to see Brian Schweitzer making a credible challenge to Hillary Clinton, but who would have thought Barack Obama could have won at this point before the 2008 election? I do wonder if Schweitzer is actually positioning himself for a future run, or perhaps as Hillary Clinton’s running mate. His is from a profile of Schweitzer at MSNBC:

It could be that Schweitzer is really aiming his sights for the vice presidency. He pulls his punches ever so slightly when talking about Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of state. When asked about Benghazi, he leaps to her defense.

“The Republicans like to blame her for four people killed in the embassy and that’s tragic,” he told msnbc. “But did the Republicans forget already that during the time I was in Saudi Arabia there was a big explosion in a hotel in Beirut, Lebanon, and 160 American Marines were killed? 160’s a lot more than four, right?”

In fact, 220 Marines and 241 American personnel total were killed in the 1983 bombing. Which brings up another issue for Schweitzer: he doesn’t have much of a filter. In a presidential campaign, even the slightest gaffe can explode into a firestorm.

Ultimately, Schweitzer’s biggest impact on the 2016 presidential contest could be pressuring the centrist, cautious Clinton to stay in the left lane.

It is one thing for Schweitzer to defend Clinton on Benghazi considering the absurdity of the Republican attack, but he has also been critical in other areas, with an aim at keeping her from moving “hard right.”

“The question that we have is, will it be the Hillary that leads the progressives?” he said. “Or is it the Hillary that says, ‘I’m already going to win the Democratic nomination, and so I can shift hard right on Day 1.’ We can’t afford any more hard right. We had eight years of George Bush. Now we’ve had five years of Obama, [who], I would argue, in many cases has been a corporatist.”

Schweitzer has also criticized Clinton for her vote on Iraq, a position which should gain points (if not enough votes to win) from Democratic voters:

“Anybody who runs in this cycle, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, if they were the United States Senate and they voted with
George Bush to go to Iraq when I would say about 98 percent of America knows that it was a folly, that it was a waste of treasure and blood,
and if they voted to go to Iraq there will be questions for them on the left and from the right,” he told CNN.

Later, in his remarks to a holiday party organized by the liberal group Progress Iowa, Schweitzer asked the roughly 70 audience members
to keep the Iraq war vote in mind as they begin to think about potential candidates passing through the state.

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The Obama Scandals, A Look Back At The Fiction

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.

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Claims of Anti-Tea Party Conspiracy Fall Apart With Revelations That IRS Also Targeted Progressive Groups

After the disclosure that the IRS had been placing Tea Party groups under extra scrutiny for tax breaks, Republicans thought they had a real scandal. When the facts didn’t support their claims, they tried everything from fabricating fake facts to hiding the actual facts which came out in Congressional testimony. Their claims of a conspiracy orchestrated by the Obama White House took another blow when Bloomberg reported that the IRS was similarly taking a closer look at progressive organizations:

The Internal Revenue Service used terms such as “progressive” and evidence of advocacy on Israel to flag groups’ tax-exempt applications for extra attention, complicating what had been seen as targeted scrutiny for small-government groups.

The IRS’s disclosure yesterday of 15 redacted versions of its Be On the Lookout document, or BOLO, bolstered its contention that delays experienced by Tea Party groups applying for nonprofit status were a symptom of mismanagement and not politically motivated action.

As other evidence has also demonstrated, low-level career bureaucrats were taking shortcuts, faced with interpreting poorly written laws which determine tax-exemption based upon whether an organization’s activity are primarily political. While it is necessary to treat all groups equally, it comes as no surprise that IRS agents suspected that organizations with words including Tea Party and Patriot might be primarily engaged in political activity without any direction from the White House.

First Read put this and another faux scandal in perspective:

IRS controversy loses its punch? In the past week, we’ve seen two revelations that have taken some of the punch out of the IRS controversy. First, per the testimony of a self-described conservative Republican IRS frontline manager in Cincinnati, the employee had no reason to believe the Obama White House played any role in seeming to target conservative-sounding groups, confirming the inspector general’s conclusion. Then yesterday, we discovered the IRS “used terms such as ‘progressive’ and evidence of advocacy on Israel to flag groups’ tax-exempt applications for extra attention, complicating what had been seen as targeted scrutiny for small-government groups,” Bloomberg News writes. “The IRS’s disclosure yesterday of 15 redacted versions of its Be On the Lookout document, or BOLO, bolstered its contention that delays experienced by Tea Party groups applying for nonprofit status were a symptom of mismanagement and not politically motivated action.” Bottom line: The IRS controversy/scandal looks much more like an agency controversy/scandal (where wrongdoing was committed by bureaucrats) than a full-blown political controversy/scandal (where it goes all the way to the top). And in retrospect, that also applies to those Benghazi talking points.

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Republican Hysteria Over Pseudo-Scandals Prevents Consideration Of Real Problems

Scandals cartoon

One consequence of a dysfunctional opposition party which is more concerned with scoring political points than the good of the country is that we have a combination of attacks over fabricated scandals while ignoring real problems. The Republicans have concentrated on Benghazi, even resorting to distorting evidence, and the IRS, which looks far more like low level bureaucrats taking short cuts than any Nixonian abuse of power coming from the White House, despite the Republican attempts to move the goal posts.

One problem with trying to turn real problems into a political scandal is that the actual problems are not addressed. We need to look at issues such as how organizations are evaluated for favorable tax status and how foreign embassies are defended, not twist the facts to blame Obama. Strangely, conservatives who speak out (sometimes correctly) about the size of our bureaucracy fail to understand that the president does not personally make every decision. Republicans who ignored actual abuses of power under George Bush see everything which might go wrong as evidence of evil intent on the part of the current president.

There is a report today which provides hope that some Republican staffers, at least, are looking at trying to learn from the Benghazi attack:

The inquiry led by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into the slaying of four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year has been attention-grabbing, but some senior GOP aides are worried that the partisan overtones are diverting Congress from identifying and addressing the real lessons learned from the attack.

In particular, these aides say key staffers have been overly consumed with chasing down or addressing inaccurate or unfounded accusations emerging from the inquiry.

“We have got to get past that and figure out what are we going to do going forward,” a GOP aide stressed. “Some of the accusations, I mean you wouldn’t believe some of this stuff. It’s just — I mean, you’ve got to be on Mars to come up with some of this stuff.”

In this charged political environment, where some on Capitol Hill have accused the president of a possible cover-up related to the attack just weeks before the 2012 presidential election, defense policy Republicans are trying to refocus attention on core issues and create some good out of the tragedy.

Hopeful, but I fear that the Republicans will still prefer to mislead their base in order to motivate them to turn out and contribute money as opposed to turning to reality-based governing.

One sign of business as usual among Republicans is that Darryl Issa, who pursues his job with the vigor and lack of integrity of Joseph McCarthy, is now attacking IRS inspector general J. Russell George.

Another problem is that real questions involving civil liberties are ignored, primarily as the Republicans would support greater violations. The Obama administration’s actions towards the AP raises First Amendment concerns even if this was done within the law and there are extenuating factors which also must be considered.While conservatives are generally only concerned with abuses which target conservatives, and which often only exist in their imagination, liberals have been non-partisan regarding both the IRS and the media. Liberals were no less likely to be concerned in principle that the target was from Fox with the naming of a  correspondent as a possible “co-conspirator” in an investigation of a news leak . The New York Times concluded their editorial on the matter by writing:

Obama administration officials often talk about the balance between protecting secrets and protecting the constitutional rights of a free press. Accusing a reporter of being a “co-conspirator,” on top of other zealous and secretive investigations, shows a heavy tilt toward secrecy and insufficient concern about a free press.

Along with excessive secrecy, in contrast to campaign promises to have the most open and transparent government in history, the use of drone strikes has led to much of the criticism of Obama from the left. There is some good news on this today, also from The New York Times:

President Obama embraced drone strikes in his first term, and the targeted killing of suspected terrorists has come to define his presidency.

But lost in the contentious debate over the legality, morality and effectiveness of a novel weapon is the fact that the number of strikes has actually been in decline. Strikes in Pakistan peaked in 2010 and have fallen sharply since then; their pace in Yemen has slowed to half of last year’s rate; and no strike has been reported in Somalia for more than a year.

We cannot rely on Congressional over-site as the Republicans would be more likely to promote greater use of drones and show far less concern over issues of either legality or morality. There have been mixed signs that the Obama administration has been moving towards establishing greater consideration of institutionalizing changes in warfare with development of due process and ideally judicial over-site. Hopefully this reduction in the use of drones indicates a greater consideration of the consequences of this policy.

 

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Only Republican Base Believes GOP Noise On The Pseudo-Scandals

Despite all the Republican noise about Watergate-style scandals, most Americans are not being fooled. A CNN poll found President Obama’s approval at 53 percent, up from 51 percent in April (which is within the margin or error). Greg Sargent summarized how the internals of the poll find that only Republicans are falling for this:

* The IRS scandal: Among overall Americans, 61 percent say what Obama has said about the matter is mostly or completely true, versus only 35 percent who say it’s mostly or completely false. Among Republicans, 68 percent say what Obama has claimed is false, and among conservatives, 56 percent say this.But independents believe what Obama has said is true by 58-36, and moderates believe this by 71-25.

Meanwhile, among overall Americans, 55 percent say the IRS acted on its own in targeting conservative groups, while only 37 percent say the White House ordered it.  Among Republicans, 62 percent say the White House ordered it, and among conservatives, 54 percent believe this.But independents believe the IRS acted on its own by 53-36, and moderates believe this by 65-29.

* The Benghazi story: Among overall Americans, 50 percent believe early statements about the attacks by Obama officials reflected what the administration believed at the time, while 44 percent believe they intentionally misled. Among Republicans, 76 percent believe they intentionally misled, and among conservatives, 65 percent believe this. But moderates believe the statements reflected the administration’s beliefs by 60-35. (Among independents this isn’t as pronounced, but still, a plurality sides with the White House, 47-44.)

As long as Democrats and independents are not being fooled by Republican noise the Democrats should not have any serious political problems from these pseudo-scandals. However, the Republicans might receive some benefit from deceiving their base as this could increase turnout and contributions from the right.

Republicans are also attempting a strange shifting of the goal posts in trying to define whether there is a Wategate-style coverup. Republicans who abused power, such as Ricard Nixon and George W. Bush, would have the IRS investigate and harass political enemies. In the situation currently under investigation, lower-level IRS agents appear to be at fault, with those higher up conducting an investigation when the improper treatment of right wing organizations was uncovered. This is how the system should have worked, but Republicans are trying to twist things into claiming that knowledge of the probe by the Treasury Department or anyone in the White House suggests a coverup. It would have been a coverup if the White House had tried to hinder an investigation, but knowledge of the investigation and allowing it to proceed demonstrates nothing wrong.

Steve Benen points out an amusing twist to all of this. The White House (but initially not Barack Obama) became aware of the investigation in April, 2013.  However, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was informed back in July 2012.  Should Democrats be accusing Issa of a coverup?

There were certainly mistakes made at lower levels, but there has been absolutely no evidence of either abuse of power or a coverup in the Obama administration. The only recent president who might be compared to Richard Nixon and Watergate was George W. Bush, not Barack Obama.

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Conflicting Principles In Searching For Leak On Al Qaeda Informant

I’ve had several posts recently about two of the “scandals” surrounding the Obama administration. In one case, Benghazi, there is no real scandal–just another case of Republicans distorting the facts. In the case of the IRS, we have the rare case of Republicans being right about wrong-doing, but wrong in trying to tie this to Obama. The subpoena of AP records regarding sources on a story about a planned terrorist attack is more difficult to characterize. In this case, Republicans aren’t attacking Obama because they have no qualms about infringing upon First Amendment liberties, but many liberals are concerned.

Jack Shafer of Reuters has an excellent review of this case and his entire post should be read. He began:

Journalists gasp and growl whenever prosecutors issue lawful subpoenas ordering them to divulge their confidential sources or to turn over potential evidence, such as notes, video outtakes or other records. It’s an attack on the First Amendment, It’s an attack on the First Amendment, It’s an attack on the First Amendment, journalists and their lawyers chant. Those chants were heard this week, as it was revealed that Department of Justice prosecutors had seized two months’ worth of records from 20 office, home and cell phone lines used by Associated Press journalists in their investigation into the Yemen underwear-bomber leaks.

First Amendment radicals — I count myself among them — resist any and all such intrusions: You can’t very well have a free press if every unpublished act of journalism can be co-opted by cops, prosecutors and defense attorneys. First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams speaks for most journalists when he denounces the “breathtaking scope” of the AP subpoenas. But the press’s reflexive protests can prevent it from seeing the story in full, which I think is the case in the current leaks investigation.

See the full article for the specifics, but the gist of this is that the Obama administration’s concern here was not with preventing the press from publishing their reports but uncovering a leak. Also, this is not a case of someone leaking information which we necessarily wanted to get out, but the fact that an al Qaeda plot to bomb an airplane bound for the United States was stopped due to having an informant  recruited by British intelligence inside of al Qaeda.

Shafer concluded:

To begin with, the perpetrators of a successful double-agent operation against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula would not want to brag about their coup for years. Presumably, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will now use the press reports to walk the dog back to determine whose misplaced trust allowed the agent to penetrate it. That will make the next operation more difficult. Other intelligence operations — and we can assume they are up and running — may also become compromised as the press reports give al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula new clues.

Likewise, the next time the CIA or foreign intelligence agency tries to recruit a double agent, the candidate will judge his handlers wretched secret keepers, regard the assignment a death mission and seek employment elsewhere.

Last, the leaks of information — including those from the lips of Brennan, Clarke and King — signal to potential allies that America can’t be trusted with secrets. “Leaks related to national security can put people at risk,” as Obama put it today in a news conference.

The ultimate audience for the leaks investigation may not be domestic but foreign. Obviously, the government wants to root out the secretspillers. But a country can’t expect foreign intelligence agencies to cooperate if it blows cover of such an operation. I’d wager that the investigations have only begun.

Since 9/11 there have been many situations where the government has gone overboard in placing security (and sometimes false claims of security) over civil liberties. The answer on this one is certainly not clear.

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CBS Reports How Republicans Altered The Facts On Benghazi Emails

We learned earlier this week from CNN that the supposedly incriminating emails about the Benghazi talking points were altered to give the false impression of a cover up. But who would do such a thing? CBS News reports that the Republicans misquoted the content of the emails to give the false impression of wrong doing on the part of the White House.

This is no surprise. It is common for Republicans to misquote Democrats when they have no coherent argument against what the Democrats actually said

What is surprising is the news media is pointing out the the claims made by Republicans are false. More often the media will quote both sides as if they have equivalent validity and fail to point out the facts.

This is a promising change which I hope continues.

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CNN Finds That Someone Altered The “Incriminating” Benghazi Email

There was very little to the Benghazi scandal which the Republicans were trying to promote when I wrote about it yesterday. They have even less today now that it has been exposed that the email the Republicans have been so excited about had been altered according to a report from Jake Tapper.

CNN has obtained an e-mail sent by a top aide to President Barack Obama about White House reaction to the deadly attack last September 11 on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that apparently differs from how sources characterized it to two different media organizations.

The actual e-mail from then-Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes appears to show that whomever leaked it did so in a way that made it appear that the White House was primarily concerned with the State Department’s desire to remove references and warnings about specific terrorist groups so as to not bring criticism to the department…

Steve Benen commented:

So, let me get this straight. Someone — we don’t know who — leaked misleading information to ABC and the Weekly Standard, they ran it, other news organizations embraced it, we’ve had several days of “scandal” based on it, and the information wasn’t true?

Tapper put it this way: “Whoever provided those quotes seemingly invented the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed.”

In other words, we’re not dealing with a mistake, so much as we’re dealing with a political actor deliberately misrepresenting key details to journalists, who in turn misled other journalists, who in turn created a controversy where none existed.

Greg Sargent’s take on this rings true.

This would seem to do still more damage to the notion that there was any kind of cover up here…. It’s increasingly clear that this was merely a bureaucratic turf war at work, in which State wanted to get rid of the CIA’s efforts to insert into the talking points stuff that preempts blame against the agency. This new revelation from Tapper takes this even further — it suggests the administration didn’t even prioritize State’s demands and was simply looking to get agencies on the same page to prevent the spreading of misinformation.

Indeed, the email explicitly cites worry about the “significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.” That suggests, again, that this internal debate was mainly about not getting out too far ahead of what was actually known — which could actually be a desirable thing under such circumstances.

Indeed, if this report bears out, it weakens the underpinning of this supposed scandal considerably.

Andrew Sullivan concluded:  “Just an early, failing attempt to smear Hillary for 2016. Because the GOP has no relevant policies for our times, just politics.”

We finally might have a real scandal here, but the scandal is over who is altering email to fabricate right wing attacks.

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