So it seems that the latest hyped-up Republican balderdash regarding the White House response to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi centers on the discovery that the talking points developed for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice were edited.
Pardon me while I yawn.
Seriously, this is the big, damning revelation that’s going to make Benghazi a bigger scandal than Watergate? Please. This is a bunch of hyped-up horse crap that doesn’t mean diddly squat, except that it is being used as a political cudgel by a bunch of hypocrites who engage in the same, largely innocuous practices on a daily basis.
First, let me tell you a little bit about talking points. People who work in politics and public relations are very familiar with talking points, which, for those who do not know, is a list of answers to questions that a politician, or a public or corporate official, might be asked by media or investigators. Talking points are crafted to keep the spokesperson from saying anything that might conceivably be used to attack the person, or the office, or the company, that the spokesperson represents. They are used as a defense against the “gotcha” culture that today prevails in politics and journalism, in which any poorly considered word can be turned into an attack (justifiably or unjustifiably), even if that word is taken wildly out of context.
Every politician, and every politician’s staff, uses talking points for exactly this reason (just as the ridiculous people who attack President Obama for using a teleprompter also use teleprompters virtually every time they make a major speech). And, with every politician’s office or corporate entity that uses talking points, there is always a multilayered review process that almost inevitably leads to revisions, because of the hair-trigger sensitivity involved. There is a justifiable fear that any single word that isn’t perfect (and perfectly innocuous) may boomerang, and this leads to a hypersensitivity on the part of the people who write and edit the talking points.
So what have we learned here about the talking points the administration initially used after the Benghazi attack? We learned that they went through multiple iterations and that a State Department official spent a lot of time quibbling about a few words because she was worried about what some unnamed senior officials in her department might think.
As someone who has spent most of the last dozen years writing talking points until they’re coming out of my ears, and dealing with the hypersensitive worrywarts who parse every word, I understand exactly what happened here. And what occurred here was almost certainly a case of overzealous caution that, in all likelihood, amounts to nothing more.
But the Republicans in Congress know that most people have no idea what talking points are, why they are used, and what the process is in developing them and using them. And they are counting on this fact to help them make something sinister out of this. Certain media organizations who undoubtedly know better are not only allowing them to get away with it, but helping them spread it, and this, sadly, is nothing new. Scandals, trumped up or otherwise, are good for ratings. And anybody out there who seriously believes that the “liberal media” is in bed with the Democrats, consider how much we heard about Whitewater, or Monica Lewinsky, or dozens of other things even more ridiculous, during the Bill Clinton presidency. Media outlets want viewers and readers because this is how they make money, and scandals are good for business.
What’s really happening here is happening for multiple reasons, none of which emanate from a legitimate concern about the security of our embassies. While numerous outlets reflect different numbers, a well-documented article by the admittedly liberal-leaning Media Matters for America demonstrates, through usage of independent sources, no fewer than seven such attacks during the George W. Bush administration. Where were these investigation-demanding Republicans then?
What’s really going on can be summed up in four quick points:
1) The fact that Republican members of Congress, in order to impress their political base, must attack the president constantly. Any Republican who doesn’t appear sufficiently aggressive against the president (see Charlie Crist, Chris Christie, etc.) immediately gets torn apart by the conservative base, and in some cases, such as what happened to Crist (now a Democrat), ends up facing a primary challenge.
2) The fact that Republican politicians have never gained any traction in their constant attempts to stoke hatred against the president and thereby weaken his personal brand. It has driven Republicans to distraction, as noted in a proposed super-PAC attack against President Obama during the 2012 election, that “Americans still aren’t ready to hate this president.”
3) The desire to bog the Obama Administration down in defending itself against ridiculous attacks rather than continuing to create uncomfortable pressure on the Republicans on actual issues, such as background checks for gun purchases. If you don’t think the president’s efforts on this issue have been producing results, look only at how Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) and other Senators, of both parties, have seen their approval ratings fall off a cliff since voting against the background-check bill.
4) The Republicans’ abject fear of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gaining the Democratic nomination in 2016. As Time magazine reported on April 12th—just before this ridiculous tempest in a teapot was ginning up—numerous Republican political movers-and-shakers were all but conceding that Secretary Clinton would be unbeatable in a 2016 presidential run. They need to tarnish her now and either convince her not to run, or at least dent her approval ratings.
This isn’t about national security or a “cover up.” This is about the Republicans’ ongoing efforts to find a silver bullet against a president who, just like Bill Clinton, they couldn’t beat fairly at the polls. It’s also an attempt to preemptively destroy Hillary Clinton, whom they know they can’t beat at the polls. Don’t buy the hype.