So now we know a little more officially than we did before that the Republican Party higher-ups know or at least suspect that there’s likely no actual political scandal in the IRS matter, and that they’re letting Darrell Issa have his fun and make a fool of himself just for the sake of doing whatever random damage to Barack Obama they can in his remaining time in office. An article by Shane Goldmacher in National Journal yesterday, when read properly between the lines, says as much. And if they can’t get him while he’s in office, by ginning up some flimsy reason to open impeachment hearings, they’ll hound him on his way out the door and afterward, trying to add words like “corrupt” and “tarnished” to the first paragraphs of historical summations of his tenure. That’s all this is really about—their base’s rage at the continued existence of Barack Obama, and their own twisted craving to acknowledge and stoke it.
The Goldmacher piece makes the commonsensical and nonideological observation that you might think that Issa, who has been out there throwing unproven allegations against the wall like Oscar Madison did Felix Unger’s linguine, would be reined in a bit by his party. This is especially so after calling Jay Carney a “paid liar” and backing it up with nothing specific. In fairness, a couple of Republicans—interestingly, Lindsey Graham and John McCain chief among them—did urge a holding of the horses after that one.
But by and large, Republicans are perfectly happy for Issa to keep stirring the pot. Eric Cantor—this happened after the “paid liar” remark—singled Issa out for praise at a closed-door meeting of the House GOP on Tuesday. At a press conference the same day, Cantor twice refused to criticize Issa even mildly.
I would love to know what someone like Cantor really thinks about this IRS thing. My guess about him and most top Republicans: they’d love for some unexpected nugget of political gold to turn up, of course, but they surely know very well that this scandal is almost certainly a bureaucratic one. With luck, they might land proof that someone in the Obama reelection campaign knew about the IG probe into the matter, but then the question will be how much detail this person or persons knew. The likelihood would be simply that they knew of the existence of the probe but nothing about the details.
On the other hand, there may be even less to all this than that. Issa once promised that he would release all the transcripts of his closed-door proceedings. He has not done so, and I gather he is stonewalling reporters on the question. Could it be that there’s something in the full transcripts that would more or less end this whole thing? I’m sure we can trust him, though, because Republican staffers never doctor docum—oops, never mind.
Whatever. Nothing would stop the GOP from trying to turn this thing into another Watergate. Their base will demand it, because to them, Obama is capable of all manner of evil. Ted Cruz’s recent McCarthy-esque comparison of Obama to Nixon (because the IRS matter somehow proves that Obama has an “enemies list”) is, to the base, soft-pedaling the situation if anything, and undoubtedly insulting to Nixon to boot.
Over the years since Obama arrived on scene, right-wingers have believed and circulated and peddled the following about him (and this is just a very partial list from Snopes.com, putting aside the ones you already know about the birth certificate and his “Muslim” heritage): that he refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance; that his campaign was funded by Hugo Chávez; that he wanted to replace “The Star Spangled Banner” with the less martial “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”; that he must have used a non-U.S. passport to travel to Pakistan in 1981; that he plans to ban recreational fishing in the United States; that he had to surrender his law license; has banned the National Day of Prayer; stopped wearing his wedding ring in observance of Ramadan; and once kissed David Cameron, smack on the lips.
All that is to say nothing of the racist invective that is the constant background music of this presidency. We in the media never discuss this (go Google “chat board Obama n----r,” except use the actual word, and just see what you get), but it is a daily diet in this country—yes, daily—and nothing said about any president in history that I can think of comes close to matching its relentless and savage sickness.
This is the rage the Republicans are feeding—and conservative intellectuals are doing their best to ignore. And no, it’s not this way when the situation is reversed. The Democrats specifically did not embark on these political fishing expeditions, and while much of the base wanted them to, a lot of liberal commentators did not. (I was against pursuing impeachment charges against Bush and Cheney, which you can read about here; I did urge Democrats to hold war-profiteering hearings, on which they vexingly ignored me.) The liberal base hated George Bush all right, but the hate wasn’t quite as existential, wasn’t quite as drenched in the same kind of suppurated derangement one finds in quarters of the right.
Besides which, Bush discredited himself through his uniform incompetence. Obama, clearly competent, has not done that and is unlikely to do it. So the Republicans have to do it to him. Tarnishing Obama is the only way they can emerge from these eight years not completely humiliated by him, so we’re just going to have to endure it.