Karen Hughes tells the following story in her memoirs:
She had left the White House and was recuperating with a beachside vacation. She looked up from the sand and saw a small plane crossing the sky, dragging a big advertising banner behind it. It said, "Come back, Jill. I am miserable without you. Love, Jack." She thought: Bad message Jack—too much about you, not enough about her.
I think of this passage as Republicans prepare for a constitutional show-down over the Fast & Furious fiasco.
Yes, the operation was a terrible and embarrassing failure that led to the violent deaths of one American and hundreds of Mexicans. Yes, there should be accountability—and indeed there is an Inspector-General's investigation underway, and relevant officials have been dismissed or reassigned.
What's driving the intensity in this story, though, is an unspoken theory among some conservatives that the true purpose of Fast & Furious was not a (tragically misconceived) plan to end gun violence in Mexico but a (secret and sinister) plan to tamper with gun rights in the United States.
Here's an explicit statement of the conservatives' theory by one of the case's most passionate observers, Bob Owens, writing at PJMedia.com:
We know for a fact that Operation Fast and Furious was designed by the Obama administration to put American weapons in the hands of Mexican cartels to kill Mexican citizens, and that the guns recovered in those deaths would be used to call for more gun control.
Hundreds died in a plot that appears to have been designed to impose gun control. It’s past time for the appointment of an independent prosecutor, and to press for criminal charges against those responsible for the carnage that has resulted from the deadliest scandal in U.S. government history.
(It's worth remembering at this point that PJMedia.com was the site that launched the false story that the Environmental Protection Agency was using military drones to spy on farmers.)
This theory is self-inflated and unsupported, but it's widely believed. Probably nothing to be done about that. The question for Republicans is: do they really want to take this wild-eyed conspiracy to the country as a national voting issue in 2012? We're not talking to the country. We're talking-to ourselves—or rather, to a fringe constituency within ourselves.