There’s been plenty of breathless buildup to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony before Congress next week in which House Republicans are determined to find out what really happened in Benghazi.
Conspiracy theories abounded that Clinton was dodging congressional scrutiny of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya by faking health problems that last month prevented her from making the trek to the Hill.
But if recent history is any guide, her appearance will probably be less fireworks and more “meh.” One reason: Clinton is a veteran witness, adept at dampening drama. But more importantly, there have been few truly blockbuster hearings of late. Little theatricality along the lines of “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” from the Army-McCarthy hearings, or Oliver North attorney Brendan Sullivan insisting he wasn’t “a potted plant” during the Iran-Contra investigation.
The most memorable hearing of the past few years might be famous for what didn’t happen: that all-male House panel on contraception last year created an image the proved hard for Republicans to shake. And another notable moment in recent congressional hearings took place offstage, when the auto executives seeking massive bailouts for their floundering companies in 2008 arrived for their testimony in corporate jets.
Sure, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) does his level best to keep hearings lively with sometimes testy sessions on the spending scandal at the General Services Administration and the like.
Still, no less an authority on stagecraft than former senator Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) declared the death of the revelatory hearing over a decade ago (and as an actor, the guy knows a good scene). “Nowadays, the ability of Congress to really find out anything substantive in congressional hearings has been extremely limited,” he said in a 1999 interview.
And so while House Republicans may be coming to the hearing with knives — and prepared questions — sharpened, we might suggest coming armed with a fresh crossword puzzle.