A jillion Watergates?

Al Kamen
Columnist December 13, 2012

Washington generally exists in a hyperbolic state, but even the most jaded ears had to prick up when Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) declared to the Washington Times that L’Affaire Benghazi is “10 times bigger” than the Watergate and Iran-contra scandals combined.

So, let’s do the math. If Watergate ended in a president’s resignation, plus dozens of criminal convictions, and Iran-contra yielded 11 convictions, and Benghazi is 10 times that serious . . . wait a sec . . . the one . . . then it will result in at least 10 presidents resigning and hundreds of convictions.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

King’s math is complex. After all, he once asserted that the various allegations against the community organization ACORN were “thousands of times bigger than Watergate.”

We’ll need a cosmic calculator for this one: If Benghazi is 10 times the size of Watergate and Iran-contra combined, is that bigger or smaller than Watergate times a couple of thousand?

People died in Benghazi, and that’s a tragedy. What’s less clear is whether what happened afterward is in Watergate territory.

But that “Watergate” label gets slapped on anything these days. In the language of particularly excitable Republicans, it translates to “raises an eyebrow.”

Jon Stewart this year mocked the frequent use of the Watergate phrase by Fox News, running a clip of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) asserting that Solyndra made “Watergate look like child’s play.”

We seem to recall that House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) once said that the “Fast and Furious” gun mess “looks an awful lot like Iran-contra.” He later added a Watergate comparison: “This is like Iran-contra, like Watergate.”

Former congressman Dan Burton (R-Ind.) was fond of his Watergate comparisons, too. He once said the collection of documents on Republicans by the administration of President Bill Clinton could go “beyond Watergate in its seriousness.”

One suggestion? If Republicans want to turn Benghazi into a souped-up Watergate, they might consider a catchier name.

Where the money is

In these days of international financial uncertainty — and occasional panic — it’s good to see the International Monetary Fund folks still know how to party. Really party.

The Saturday night annual holiday blowout for some 7,000 employees and guests features seven “serving stations” for various cuisines and unlimited booze.

We start at the IMF headquarters with 90 minutes of “passed hors d’oeuvres,” featuring the usual stuff: caviar creme fraiche and “local Choptank sweet oyster shooters with tomato jalapeño broth,” “smoked salmon mousse in an edible cone” and, of course, “warm truffle braised short rib tartlets.”

The “Peppermint Patty” and “Poinsettia” passed cocktails help wash it all down and get you in the proper party mood.

But go easy, lest you fill up and miss out on the stunning dinner fare at the food stations, featuring Indian, Thai/
Vietnamese, Mediterranean/ Middle Eastern, Spanish, Mexican and even American food.

The booze stations feature “specialty drinks” such as the “Partridge in a Pear Breeze,” the “Mr. Grinch” and the “Nutty Jester.” There’s also the more traditional margarita.

Remember, pacing is key. You don’t want to get completely blotto and embarrass yourself trying to dance to the fine band’s music.

If you work up a big appetite, not to worry: A “fruit and cheese display with assorted crackers and French baguette slices will be put out at each station at 10:30 pm,” our invite says. The bash ends at 1 a.m.

About 13,000 bank staffers, retirees and others are eligible to attend, an IMF official told us, and the number of affirmative RSVPs this year is about 7,000.

We were told by a source that the cost of this black-tie-optional gala would be well over $500,000, but an IMF official said the price tag is expected to be about $350,000.

That might seem like a lot, but look at it this way: Greece is expected to cough up $899 million in interest payments to the IMF next year.

That’s a lot of shooters.

The height of contrition

Turns out the language one uses in speeches on the House floor is no small matter.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) apologized Thursday for using what he terms “the m-word” during a speech the previous evening.

What was the shocking term? Midget.

The congressman used the word in a metaphor about the Michigan labor situation in which he made a point about an unfair matchup. “What happens when you put a giant with a midget in a cage fight?” he had asked rhetorically. The word is offensive to some, who prefer the term “little people” to describe those with dwarfism, Johnson noted in his mea culpa speech.

On Thursday, he said he had since learned that the language is “no longer socially acceptable,” much like the “n-word,” which he noted once was widely used.

“It was out of ignorance, not spite or hatred,” he said of his own comment. “I will never use that term again.”

He called it a “learning moment.”

A five-letter word

Sometimes the daily State Department briefing can take an odd turn.

Associated Press reporter Matt Lee asked State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Thursday about an editorial in Pravda that said the United States is aligned with “the Brits and the French” in an axis conspiring against Russia and coined an acronym for the conspirators.

The acronym was FUKUS, Lee said, as in “France, the U.K. and the U.S.”

“Can you say the name of the acronym again?” Nuland asked as the place erupted in laughter.

Lee obliged and noted, “You could have an alternate pronunciation,” as the laughter continued.

“First, Matt,” Nuland said, “let me just say that I clearly owe you at least two, if not three, rounds of drinks for yourself and all your friends for your candor here in my briefing room.”

Nuland, a former ambassador to NATO, said department officials had seen the article, which she said “speaks to what passes for news in Pravda” these days. Pravda, big in Soviet days, means “truth.”

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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