They're Shocked!

Obama conspiracies don't add up to much — kind of like the job performance of Congress

CAPTAIN RENAULT: This cafe is closed until further notice! Clear the room at once! 

RICK: How can you close me up? On what grounds?

CAPTAIN RENAULT: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]

CROUPIER: Your winnings, sir.

CAPTAIN RENAULT: [quietly] Oh, thank you…

Benghazi, IRS and now NSA surveillance: Like Louis Renault in Casablanca, Congressional Republicans are shocked — shocked! So many conspiracies, so little time. The GOP controls what may turn out to be the most unproductive House of Representatives ever. This 113th Congress actually makes the 80th Congress, which Harry Truman called the “do-nothing Congress,” look good by comparison, certainly as regards to serious matters — budgets, immigration reform, health care, infrastructure, jobs, banking, consumer protection, “millennial generation” unemployment, student debt, women’s reproductive rights, Meals on Wheels, defense spending, climate change, globalization. The serious stuff? They phone it in. But when it comes to conspiracies, they work overtime. The House committee charged with ferreting out “waste, fraud and abuse” is the Government Oversight and Reform Committee, chaired by Darrell Issa, the latest in the line of GOP oversight chairs to be informed by Joe McCarthy, who exploited what Richard Hofstadter termed “the paranoid style of American politics.” Issa says that he is going to work 24/7 to get the bottom of all three conspiracies. No surprise.

Let’s begin with Benghazi: A reasonable response to what happened would direct attention to the regional chaos of that night, the terrible YouTube footage and the riots in Cairo. That’s how the junior State Department staffer who sent out word from the beseiged consulate saw things. Within a day or two, however, better intelligence concluded that Islamic terrorists had indeed staged the attack. President Obama said as much. Earlier though, UN Ambassador Susan Rice had gone on TV with understandably premature talking points that were inaccurate; but so far as Issa (and we need to add John McCain and his Sancho Panza, Lindsey Graham), was concerned? Ah-ha, an obvious cover-up — kind of like Whitewater, Travelgate, “Who killed Vince Foster,” ad nauseam. By way of contrast, think back to the Marine barracks bombing in 1983. Over the objections of his Secretary of Defense, President Reagan sent the Marines into Lebanon to root out terrorists; later, the DOD commission concluded the president had failed to make their mission clear. Moreover, the Marines were bunched together in one barracks — a perfect target for a suicide bomber. Two-hundred-and-forty-one Americans died that day, including 220 Marines, their most fatalities in one day since Iwo Jima. But instead of the “I’m shocked!” routines as the country mourned and searched for answers, Democrats waited for the Department of Defense commission report, which criticized the administration for errors in judgment. Recommendations were accepted. Reagan blustered about getting those terrorists, nothing much happened, and six months later, the Marines were quietly ordered out. Congress held brief hearings, but the commission provided the definitive investigation.

Moving on to the IRS situation: Again, no surprise. On cue, before any investigation, playing to his preferred McCarthyesque form, Congressman Issa blatantly charged that these reports of “abuse” were (a) accurate and (b) revealed motive, which led to the conclusion that (c) the White House was engaging in a cover-up. We now know what really happened. The Citizens United decision had the effect of almost doubling the workload at the IRS. To make matters more difficult, Issa’s party had cut the IRS budget. The agency then had to come up with some way to process a mountain of claims with fewer personnel. They settled on a form of NSA methodology, revealing words, e.g. “Tea Party.” Also, we learned that the IRS director at the time was a Bush appointee, and that the local office charged with the abuse was managed by a lifelong Republican.

But does this news result in Mr. Issa wearing a bag over his head? Nope, he just cherry-picks words here and there, works to prevent exculpatory testimony from getting out to the public, and continues doing his “I’m shocked!” routine.

Finally, about the NSA surveillance: The NSA activities also can be tracked back to Congressional action, this time in the form of the Patriot Act. Turns out, the president is “faithfully executing the law” (albeit energetically). And consider that Obama is taking all this “I’m shocked!” stuff because of the death of one ambassador; just think what Issa and his right-wing compatriots would do to the president if we suffered a serious attack because he wasn’t energetically enforcing the Patriot Act?

And about the “I’m shocked!” routine performed again and again by Republicans? Unlike Louie in Casablanca, in this movie the American public gets no winnings at all.

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About The Author

Robert Herold

Robert Herold is a retired professor of public administration and political science at both Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University. Robert Herold's collection of Inlander columns dating back to 1995, Robert's Rules, is available at Auntie's.