Let's Hear It for Scandal!

We're led by people of questionable competence, miserable judgment and a flexible relationship with the truth.


I can't abide the sort of Beltway scold who looks down his nose at political scandals as distractions from "the business of governing." Ringside seats at the latest –'gate are among the few redeeming features of life in this miserable company town.

At a minimum, scandals serve as a useful reminder that we're usually led by people of questionable competence, miserable judgment and a flexible relationship with the truth. At their best, they can even provoke much-needed reforms.

As disgraced former CIA head Gen. David Petraeus snuck over to the Hill Friday to testify about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, it wasn't clear whether this would end up being the latter sort of scandal.

With all the focus on "who altered the CIA talking points?" and "what did [U.N. Ambassador] Susan Rice know and when did she know it?"—the Republicans seem to be missing more fundamental questions. For starters, how about, "what are we doing in Libya in the first place?"

After all, President Obama's 2011 Libyan adventure, the precursor to the Benghazi tragedy, was an unnecessary war according to the president's own secretary of defense. "I don't think it's a vital interest for the U.S.," then-Pentagon chief Robert Gates said on NBC's Meet The Press as the Tomahawk missiles flew.

Moreover, it was a war that the president's own attorney general apparently believes was illegal. Though the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel provided legal cover for the initial strike on Libya, they balked as the war approached the War Powers Resolution's 60-day deadline for stopping involvement in "hostilities" not authorized by Congress. Acting OLC head Caroline D. Krass told the president continued bombing would violate the WPR, and "Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. supported Ms. Krass' view, officials said," according to The New York Times' Charlie Savage.

Undeterred, President Obama shopped around for a second opinion, got one from a more compliant aide at State, and continued bombing.

An illegal, unnecessary war is worth at least as much attention as the Benghazi debacle is getting. By all means, Congress should investigate whether the administration deliberately misled the public, and should look into strengthening security for American diplomats.

But Congress should also consider strengthening the toothless War Powers Resolution. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) has proposed legislation that would implement an automatic funding cutoff for unauthorized wars. Maybe that's worth a hearing.

As for l'affaire Petraeus, my colleague Julian Sanchez points out that "the serious scandal here may well be the breadth of the FBI's power to launch fishing expeditions through Americans' most intimate communications." Sanchez notes that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act was drafted in 1986, "when Atari was king," and under it, "investigators often don't even need a Fourth Amendment search warrant to go fishing through your emails." Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has proposed amending ECPA to require probable cause and a warrant for email searches.

The scandal-packed Watergate period—with its revelations of unauthorized wiretapping, secret wars, intelligence abuses and obstruction of justice—was as riveting and edifying as anything in U.S. history. As a bonus, it helped spur reforms like the War Powers Resolution, the Privacy Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which, while imperfect, at least began to address the problem of unchecked executive power.

Amid the tumult surrounding Gen. Petraeus' extracurricular activities and the administration's dissembling over Benghazi, it's becoming ever clearer that our National Security-slash-National Surveillance State is once again out of control. Settling scores and scoring points is always part of the scandal game; still, it would be nice if Congress could also start addressing the deeper problems these scandals reveal.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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  1. Ringside seats at the latest –‘gate are among the few redeeming features of life in this miserable company town.

    Hear, hear!

  2. Other things not to like from the scandal:

    1. The willingness of the FBI to do favors for friends of agents. Hey, there might be a crime! We just haven’t looked hard enough!

    2. The decision of an FBI agent to inform Republicans in Congress about the investigation because no one had gotten in trouble.

    3. The willingness of both Gen. Allen and Petraeus to submit character letters to Jill Kelley’s sister’s divorce hearing, when neither man surely knew anything substantial about the matter. Instead, they were simply informing the judge “Don’t mess with this woman! She has powerful friends!”

    Anything that makes the FBI, the CIA, and the military look bad can’t be all bad.

    1. They both deserve to lose their jobs for trying to keep a guy who they don’t know from seeing his kid.

  3. At a minimum, scandals serve as a useful reminder that we’re usually led by people of questionable competence, miserable judgment and a flexible relationship with the truth.

    Unfortunately, it also provides fodder for those who say we just need “the right people in charge”. If a government agency or program that fails miserably turns out to have had a stupid/incompetent head, it’s possible to say it wasn’t the agency or program’s fault.

  4. Agreed. Now let’s all watch as Republicans make complete idiots of themselves. This Benghazi “scandal” lacks a crucial ingredient: motive. Also, an explanation of exactly what the scandal is supposed to be.

    So let’s come back in a year and see just how good for governance and American wholesomeness trumped-up petty Republican scandal after trumped-up petty Republican scandal actually proves to be.

    1. Mos def; come back in a year you vapid, shiftless apparatchik.

      George Carlin did a whole bit on your ilk, shithead.

      1. “God damn there’s a lot of stupid bastards walking around.”

        I think this exact thing every time I come here.

        Why are you defending Republicans and their bullshit?

        1. T o n y| 11.20.12 @ 2:55PM |#
          “I think this exact thing every time I come here.”

          You should think that every time you see your reflection, shithead.

    2. Motive for lying? Um, being able to avoid having the news say “Al Qaeda attacks U.S. consulate, steals secrets, kills ambassador” right before the election, particularly coming just a few days after stories claiming that you often skip security briefings.

    3. Pretend this happened under a Republican administration and I bet you could find a motivation you disingenuous team blue fluffing shill. Willful suspension of disbelief is only a defense in the minds of the incurably stupid.

  5. To paraphrase Lt/Capt Spiers from “Band of Brothers”:

    “The only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re the Constitution is already dead. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier serf is supposed to function: without mercy, without compassion, without remorse concern, without thought, without protest. All war statism depends upon it.

    And there you’ll have it.

    1. I’m practically there already.

      1. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

        1. Truly one of the greatest final lines in modern novels. One can argue over stylistic structure in the book or its lack of subtlety. But the unapologetic coda is startling, its hammer stroke finality so dark and stark. Nothing left except “The End”.

  6. “Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., told CNN on Tuesday that some Republican claims that Rice is “incompetent” may be racial in nature.

    ‘These are code words,’ Clyburn said, adding that ‘these kinds of terms that those of us ? especially those of us who were born and raised in the South — we’ve been hearing these little words and phrases all of our lives and we get insulted by them.'”…..n/1716853/

    Got that? Insulting words are racist code words when used against anyone that was previously insulted by that word.

    1. I was informed quite earnestly earlier this year that “capitalism” was a racist dogwhistle. Well, that’s it, then. I guess I should just give up now, because I wouldn’t want to be branded a racist, would I?

      1. I was informed quite earnestly a few years back about something called “laissez-faire Jim Crow laws.” You surely don’t want to support something that people associate with Jim Crow.

        1. “Laissez-faire Jim Crow laws?”

          There really is no answer to that sort of stupidity.

          You weren’t talking to Tony, were you?

  7. “We’re led by people of questionable competence, miserable judgment and a flexible relationship with the truth”

    And this makes us different from Monarchies, Oligarchies, Dictatorships, etc? How?

    This ain’t new. It wasn’t new under Bush (although a lot of protest-hobbyists claimed to think so). The National Security/National Surveillance State has been out of control since that racist bastard Woodrow Wilson was elected.

    1. Exactly, so the solution isn’t to put different people in power. The solution is to make sure those in power have limited power in the first place.

  8. “…a useful reminder that we’re usually led…”

    And it shall forever be, as long as individuals are comfortable with being “led”. Slave mentality sustains the oligarchy, and the despicable arrogance.
    How often does one hear, “Do you know who I AM?!!!”
    As long as that quote is tolerated, the scum shall thrive. Nancy and Newt are thankful that so many, even some (but thankfully few) on this site too, bicker over which leader deserves the reigns for the next few minutes. Without the two of them and their ilk, civilization shall crumble.

  9. Willful suspension of disbelief is only a defense in the minds of the incurably stupid.

  10. I am seeing this as a FBI conspiracy.

  11. And some of the more placid scenes that follow?Pi’s boat becalmed on a mirror-smooth sea, and lit up at night by an armada of bioluminescent jellyfish?have a radiant beauty. As Pi struggles to stay alive, there are also leaping porpoises, a squadron of flying fish (sushi is served!), and a gargantuan whale rocketing up from the depths.

  12. Part of the problem in Washington besides general dishonesty in both parties is no ethics, no morals and pursuing agendas not compatable with our constitution or the good of the people. Democrats want what they want and will say and do anything to get it. Republicans are so wimpy they’re afraid to stand up for what they believe because they’re afraid of taking a verbal beating from Democrats. No wonder this country in such a mess! And the public is largely clueless because they don’t pay attention and don’t have a decent education.

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