Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Zombies And Scandals

With all the non-scandals popping up in Washington, DC, not to mention the potentially real ones, we'll forgive you for thinking the far right is in some sort of climax of sedition, with all their anti-Obama scandals lined up in a row.

As one of our staff members was reminded on Monday, "Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence." Even Napoleon knew the difference between a scandal and a bunch of fools running loose.

Sadly, the nutcases in the right-wing media and currently in control of the GOP don't seem to understand such subtleties - nor do they seem to care. Apparently, they'd rather drag around the same old zombie lies about Benghazi, than take a look at what the real problems and potential scandals are in our government.

For example, the IRS "scandal" that blew up over the weekend, may not be much of a scandal at all if, like us, you believe Rick Ungar of Forbes. As Ezra Klein noted on Monday, there are some very legitimate reasons for the IRS's dumb mistake. In short, over the last few years - since Karl Rove began flaunting the tax code loophole - massive numbers of political groups have been applying for status as tax-exempt 501c4 groups. The IRS must review thousands of these applications, and needs some shortcuts to try to determine which organizations are legitimate, and which should be subjected to greater scrutiny.

The key, as Greg Sargent and Jamelle Bouie both pointed out on Monday, is that we now need a serious probe of what happened at the IRS - and the media needs to handle all of these "scandal" stories with caution, instead of racing to unsupported judgments.

Of course, Monday afternoon also saw yet another "scandal," as the AP admitted the Justice Department has obtained a large number of phone records tracking AP reporters and editors, for an as-yet unknown reason. As journalists, and members of the media, we certainly believe the Department of Justice needs to answer why they subpoenaed the phone records of the AP, and what their reason is for their highly unusual actions.

What we do not believe, specifically, is that it is President Obama's job to rein in his Attorney General. While Americans may have become accustomed to a White House directing the actions of the DOJ during the first eight years of this century, that kind of relationship is specifically contrary to the proper rules of independent conduct between the President and the AG's office.

As Jonathan Bernstein pointed out at The Washington Post's Plum Line blog on Monday, if the media really, truly wanted a scandal, they should try "the continuing, and possibly accelerating, obstruction of executive branch nominees by Senate Republicans." What Bernstein is talking about, in a word, is sedition. Some of the delays now being forced upon the Federal government by Republicans in Congress may even pass the Brandenburg test soon, in certain circumstances - though in a broader sense, Congressional Republicans have long ago passed the basic hallmarks for seditious behavior.

There's no question that the current American media and political atmosphere is currently ripe for scandals aimed at the White House - both real and perceived - as political scientist Brendan Nyhan recently calculated.

However, as Joan Walsh and Jill Lawrence both remind us, if Republicans just keep dragging around their zombie all-scandal playbook from the 90s, the heads that will roll in the 2014 and 2016 elections will most likely have an "R" stamped at the base of the skull.