May 9, 2013

What’s the real lesson of Benghazi? It’s that the party-aligned press works so well for Republicans that they’ve become too lazy to bother explaining their ideas, or doing the hard work of actual oversight.

Look, it’s May, and they’ve been at this since September, and still, no one outside of the conservative information bubble has any idea what the “there” is. Never mind whether the accusations are true; no one has even bothered laying out a set of accusations that makes sense (see Marc Ambinder for more; see also also Andrew Sabl for what a real set of accusations would look like).

Remember, to begin with, Benghazi was a policy disaster: Four people died, and there’s every possibility that it didn’t have to happen. A normal political party could get some mileage out of that (yes, it’s crass, but that’s politics). In fact, the political system depends on the out-party demanding that the president, the White House, and the executive branch in general be held to account when things go wrong.

Instead, we’ve had months of gobbledegook about a set of talking points that supposedly were part of an effort to…you know, I don’t even want to bother. What matters is whether there were mistakes made that caused the disaster, whether people who made those mistakes were held accountable, and whether things have changed to make another disaster less likely. Unfortunately, Republicans don’t seem very interested in any of that.

Part of what’s happening is, as Jamelle Bouie pointed out today, the strong demand within the conservative marketplace for scandal. But there’s more than that; it’s not just a demand for scandal, but how easily the customers accept anything presented to them. The result — and Alex Pareene is very good on this today — is that they don’t bother putting together a “coherent or convincing narrative.”

Pareene usefully contrasts Benghazi and other Obama scandals to the Bill Clinton scandals of the 1990s. One key difference, however, is that there was no Fox News through much of the Clinton presidency — the GOP-aligned network signed on in 1996 and didn’t pass CNN in viewers until 2000. That meant that in order for a story to reach a really mass audience, or at any rate to get beyond Rush Limbaugh, it had to be sold to the neutral press. True, a lot of those Clinton scandals were pretty nutty anyway, but many of them were at least coherent.

With Obama, there’s no need for these scandals to make sense; the conservative press will run with them either way. And there might even be an advantage to incoherence. After all, if the accusations are gibberish, the neutral reporters will tend to ignore them — and then conservatives can go on conservative talk radio and Fox News and charge the rest of the press of ignoring these extremely important charges.

All of which means that Republican politicians have little incentive, and perhaps even some real disincentives, for doing the hard work of government oversight — or even the hard work of first-rate scandal-mongering. No wonder they get lazy!

Unfortunately, that leaves us with hyped-up accusations, but no real government oversight — no one really probing for real mistakes, or even real malfeasance, from the Obama Administration. There’s just no reason to bother. And that leaves everyone worse off — except perhaps those reaping profits in the conservative marketplace.