GOP’s Benghazi obsession must end

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The GOP’s obsession with the Benghazi attack on September 11, 2012 that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador Chris Stevens, is strange.

This tragedy has been transmuted into a three-ring circus of investigations toward no rational end except to rally the right. Even while eightcongressional committees have conducted 13 hearings and 50 briefings on inquiries into the Benghazi calamity, nothing amiss, beyond the discovery of simple misfortune, has turned up.

Yet Benghazi has become shorthand for a supposed scandal that never was. Right-wing conspiracy theorists believe a Benghazi investigation will eventually reveal Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to be somehow entangled in some sort of a cover up. Of course nobody can specify what that cover up is, but truth or facts don’t matter in the spectral evidence of conspiracy theories!

Conservative news shows are having a field day with the witch-hunt.
Conservative news shows are having a field day with the witch-hunt.

One theory is that President Obama’s staff manipulated Sunday talk show talking points so as to get re-elected. The theory goes that if UN Ambassador Susan Rice had not claimed on five Sunday talk shows that an offensive video, Innocence of Muslims, had been a cause of the attack, that President Obama would not have been re-elected.

If the theory sounds fruity, it’s because it is.

The Sunday talk shows can have some effect sometimes, but even when Monica Lewinsky’s lawyer, Attorney William Ginsburg, conducted the “full Ginsberg” appearing on all five Sunday talk shows, his five appearances achieved nothing. Investigations proceeded from the strangely prurient independent counsel, Kenneth Star, through to impeachment of the President in the House of Representatives.

The Star report was laughed off by most political watchers worldwide as silly and voyeuristic. One wag quipped, “Before there was Sex and the City, there was Sex and the Starr Report.”

John Christopher Stevens (April 18, 1960 – September 12, 2012) was an American diplomat and lawyer who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Libya from June 2012 to September 12, 2012. Stevens was murdered when the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked by Libyans on September 11–12, 2012. (Wikipedia)
John Christopher Stevens (April 18, 1960 – September 12, 2012) was an American diplomat and lawyer who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Libya from June 2012 to September 12, 2012. Stevens was murdered when the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked by Libyans on September 11–12, 2012. (Wikipedia)

If it all sounds silly, it’s because it is.

While President Bill Clinton was not the first man in history to have had extra-marital sex, the GOP witch hunters pretended otherwise. Even as they impeached the President for extra-marital sex, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, was caught having oral sex with an aide in his car.

If it sounds hypocritical, it’s because it is. Americans were tired of the duplicitous nature of the impeachment even before it began. Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, the married cofounders of Berkeley Systems, started by passing around a petition asking Congress to “censure President Clinton and Move On”, as opposed to impeaching him.

The Republicans ought to have listened to Blade and Boyd, for the GOP’s popularity plummeted in the wake of their two-faced proceedings, and the only politician who ended up having to resign was the inquisitor himself, Newt Gingrich.

He fell due to the paranoid self-serving hysteria of a GOP witch hunt against President Bill Clinton, as they claimed they impeached Bill Clinton merely “to get to the truth.”

Two decades later, Republican Rep. Darrell Issa ran another witch hunt chairing the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, “to get to the truth.”

Issa’s committee has grilled retired Army Gen. Carter Ham, who headed U.S. Africa Command on the night of the attack, six times, each additional time for no apparent reason but to play a “game of political gotcha with our military,” as Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, quipped.

Another Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, grumbled, “It is time to get past the Benghazi witch hunt.”


Another Benghazi investigation will surely boomerang, even as it gins up the radical Right base toward profitable fundraising efforts. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-SC, who is to run the House Select Committee on Benghazi, ought to read the tea leaves of history.

Cotton Mather (Public Domain)
Cotton Mather (Public Domain)

Call it the Curse of Cotton Mather, the politically ambitious pastor who in 1692 sought to establish his conservative credentials with a series of pamphlets claiming that he could detect witches and witchcraft, that “demons were alive,” and that he could prosecute immorality. The first “witch” he went after was Bridget Bishop, who like Bill Clinton, displayed sexual immorality. In her case, she wore clothing that was too revealing which was “cut or torn in two ways.”

Mather’s destiny lay before him. A privileged child, he was expected to to follow in his father’s notable footsteps. Like his father, Increase Mather, he graduated from Princeton and became pastor of the Second Church of Boston. After a few years on the pulpit and a few politically effective rabble rousing inquisitions and inquiries, it was a simple career hop, like his dad, to lead the most powerful non-religious organization in Puritan New England, to become the President of Harvard University.

His grandstanding led to hundreds of arrests and 19 hangings, including that of my great-times-eight grandmother, Mary Eastey. She movingly wrote that the accusers had “belyed themselves”, and at her hanging, Robert Calef wrote her parting words to her family were “as serious, religious, distinct, and affectionate as could be expressed, drawing tears from the eyes of almost all present.”

Four hundred years later, Rep. Pete Sessions said of the Benghazi investigation, “and then they [the Democrats] would try and explain themselves in such a way that they would blame our insistence upon getting the truth as a political witch hunt. Well Mr. Speaker, that must mean that there is a witch somewhere.”

Cotton Mather’s political overreach caused blowback. While he attempted to resurrect his political prospects with ever more pamphlets attesting to spectral (imaginary) evidence as genuine, even his father’s book-burning in Harvard Yard of Robert Calef’s mockery of Cotton Mather’s Wonders of the Invisible World, with Calef’s More Wonders of the Invisible World, couldn’t undo the profound damage to his reputation and career the witch trials caused.

Some Salem Magistrates, such as Samuel Sewall, publically apologized for the damage they caused. (A mural of his apology is painted in the Massachusetts State House.) All the other judges repented, except for one who never repented for his actions, John Hathorne. The author of The Scarlet Letter, his great-great-grandson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, inserted a W into his last name to repent on behalf of his wayward ancestor.

RFK with Joe McCarthy. (Public Domain)
RFK with Joe McCarthy. (Public Domain)

Forty-five years prior to Newt Gingrich’s downfall from Congress, American playwright Arthur Miller presented a play in 1953 titled, “The Chronicles of Sarah Good”, later called “The Crucible”, an allegory to McCarthyism, the eponymous phenomena of making accusations of treason or disloyalty without any regard for evidence, was the attack tactic favored by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

This was one year before the famous Army-McCarthy hearings when US Army Attorney Joseph Welch cut off McCarthy from making further reckless accusations.  Welch cut him off to audience applause, “Sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Recently, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, yelled at Rep. Darrell Issa, who cut off his microphone, “I am tired of this! You cannot just have a one-sided investigation.”

Earlier in April, Cummings penned this on behalf of committee Democrats: “We oppose Chairman Issa’s efforts to recreate the Oversight Committee in Joe McCarthy’s image, and we reject his attempts to drag us back to that shameful era in which Congress tried to strip away the constitutional rights of American citizens under the bright lights of hearings that had nothing to do with responsible oversight and everything to do with the most dishonorable kind of partisan politics.”

If the pattern appears familiar, it’s because it is.