It’s hard to explain to people who weren’t paying attention to politics at the time just what the atmosphere was like in the 1990s when it came to the Clintons. In many ways the right’s ongoing attacks on them — and on Hillary in particular — were worse than the birther/Kenyan Muslim Marxist/gun grabber stuff you see today about Obama. As Duncan Black put it recently: “It was a time when you could go on the TV — night after night — and accuse the Clintons of literally anything and no one blinked. There were multiple investigations into whether Hillary Clinton had somebody killed.”
That’s why those of us who lived through that political era have been surprised to see Clinton treated with a good deal of respect in recent years, even by Republicans. At hearings a few months ago — hearings about Benghazi, no less — she was questioned by Republican Senators but the tone remained relatively even-handed.
All of those bets are off, however, and we’re back in the 1990s again. While the attacks over Benghazi before the election were mostly leveled at Obama (since the hope was that the Bengazi story would help tip the election), now Hillary (who is likely to run in 2016) is the primary target. Check out the new Benghazi video released this morning by Karl Rove’s American Crossroads:
This really does approach the tone we used to see back in the day. It features the images of Hillary looking shifty and scheming while it flatly alleges that she participated in a “cover up” of the deaths of four Americans. It also shows footage of Hillary angrily pushing back at Republican Senators, which will be familiar to those who remember all the caricaturing of Hillary as angry and out of control.
To buttress the “cover up” claim, the video states as fact that diplomat and whistleblower Gregory Hicks was ordered not to talk to Congress about his belief that the attacks were terrorism, and that he was subsequently punished for speaking out. But this appears to be in dispute: The State Department denies the basics of Hicks’ account. It also states that the administration knew the attacks were motivated by terrorism but instead blamed them on the anti-Islam video. While it is clear that the administration was wrong in its initial assessments — and was slow to acknowledge the role of terrorism — there is still no clear evidence that those assessments weren’t largely driven by conclusions being reached by the intelligence community in real time or that those conclusions were deliberately altered for political reasons. (The video, interestingly, makes no mention of the rewriting of the talking points that has been the subject of so much Republican criticism.)
At any rate, do Republicans who assert that their probe of the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attacks is not politically motivated really think their case is helped by having Karl Rove’s outfit release a political video attacking Hillary (given her possible 2016 run) over it?
* Obama to push health law: The President is holding an event today to tout the Affordable Care Act’s benefits to women, part of the ongoing effort by Democrats to deflate GOP efforts to use implementation problems against Dems in 2014. Good: Democrats will need to be cautious about implementation and work to educate the public about the difficulties implementing the law may create.
* Gabriel Gomez under fire over tax break: The Boston press is pushing the Massachusetts GOP Senate candidate to release his tax returns surrounding the $280,000 historic tax deduction he got on his home. But Gomez has refused. His rationale:
“I have nothing to hide…I followed the law.”
Even if that’s true, that doesn’t mean it won’t be a liability. Mitt Romney did nothing illegal in securing his lower tax rates, either, and his refusal to be more transparent about them was politically problematic, anyway.
* The Benghazi email Republicans want released: House Speaker John Boehner is calling for the release of an email that is supposed to prove that State Department officials knew that “Islamic terrorists” carried out the embassy attacks, without acknowledging it. But the New York Times reports:
A copy of the e-mail reviewed by The New York Times indicates that A. Elizabeth Jones, the senior State Department official who wrote it, referred to “Islamic extremists,” not terrorists. The distinction is important, administration officials said, because while the White House did not initially characterize the attack as terrorism, senior officials, including Ambassador Susan E. Rice, acknowledged the possibility that extremists had been involved in the assault.
* Why Republicans keep pressing on Benghazi: From the above Times piece, this is key:
For months, House Republicans have been pressing Mr. Boehner to take a more public stand on the matter, because it fires up the Republican base as lawmakers head into the midterm election cycle. Voters in the most conservative districts often raise the issue, giving the lawmakers fuel to bring back to the Capitol after weekends at home.
Conservative media appear to have persuaded GOP base voters that Benghazi will hasten the downfall of the Obama presidency, so officials will now continue feeding them.
* Benghazi is no Watergate: Michael Gerson:
Republicans who see a repeat of Watergate in these events will be disappointed. This was an effort to obscure negligence and incompetence, not criminality.
* What about the video? Eugene Robinson asks an interesting question about the administration’s initial assessment — which proved wrong — about the anti-Islam video’s role in triggering the attack:
This was an error, but it makes no sense as a deliberate attempt to deceive. What would be the motive? To cover up the facts and maximize the administration’s embarrassment once the truth finally came out?
* And another “gun rights” talking points crashes and burns: Glenn Kessler dismantles Senator Tom Coburn’s claim that rapes, murders, robberies and assaults declined 85 percent in parks once a 2009 measure passed allowing guns in them. This is an interesting factoid that I had not known: “the Obama administration did not fight hard against the measure, earning the ire of gun control groups.”
That’s a reminder of the degree to which Dems had previously relegated gun control to the back burner, and of how much things have changed since Newtown in Democratic politics.