Benghazi as Watergate Payback

Watergate, Benghazi, Solyndra, Fast & Furious, “Obamaphones,” Birthers, and Bundys. The right feels entitled to an impeachment or resignation causing scandal and Obama is really frustrating them

John O’Connor

Many on the right feel stung by Richard Nixon. Not by the way he exploited white resentment and backlash, north and south, in reaction to the federal government ensuring some of the most basic civil rights of all Americans, regardless of race. Not by his surveillance and harassment of domestic political opponents. And not even by his massive, secret, and illegal expansion of war in southeast Asia.

They feel stung by Watergate, though not by the shocking disregard and outright hostility to the Constitution he reveled in. They resent Nixon not for his criminally unconstitutional actions, but for doing those crimes — and getting caught — as a Republican. They resent having the saga of that profoundly criminal Republican president woven into the tapestry of recent American history in such a fundamental way as to be the unchallengeable archetype of presidential wrongdoing. They resent having to silently, if sullenly, accept at least minimal blame as a party and ideology for Richard Milhouse Nixon, the only president forced to resign to escape sure impeachment and even more certain conviction.

And they want payback.

They feel entitled to payback that whole generations on the right now view as their birthright — including, somehow, even those born before Watergate. Not long after Nixon’s retreat from office, they largely succeeded in stigmatizing and delegitimizing Jimmy Carter with everything from the supposed “malaise” speech to the hostage crisis at the embassy in Iran to the giant bunny bit. Still, though they diminished Carter in the eyes of many, that very diminishment prevented any Carter scandal, real or fabricated, from counterbalancing the historic nature of Nixon’s crimes.

Then, after the much hailed Reagan Restoration, they were reminded of the enduring nature of their party’s Nixon shame when former Nixon hatchet man Robert Bork was decisively prevented from ascending to the Supreme Court. This was a bitter reminder of the bile they had been forced to swallow a decade earlier and Bork’s rejection further fueled their simmering anger over Nixon’s humiliation of their party.

There was partial redemption when Clarence Thomas overcame his putative “high tech lynching” during George H.W. Bush’s four years in office. But, though they were able to derive a not insignificant amount of satisfaction from the “nutty/slutty” attack on Thomas’s most visible accuser, the mere confirmation of a right wing Supreme Court justice, like the humbling of president Carter without forcing him from office, could never satisfy their hunger for proper revenge for Nixon’s disgrace.

That brings us to Clinton’s two terms in office, a time that provided many opportunities for GOP scandal hunters. The rise of talk radio and the emergence of the Internet in mainstream culture helped them gin up and sustain many controversies and scandals, both phony and real. After Ken Starr’s prolonged and dedicated examination of Clinton’s activities, especially his sexual activities, the Republican controlled House did manage to impose on Clinton what Nixon avoided through resignation: charges of impeachment.

However, by that time, the years of GOP scandal mongering and overreach provoked a public backlash at their monomaniacal obsession with using a sex scandal to satisfy their quarter century old quest to revenge Nixon’s legacy. They wasted their best chance to even the score and negate Nixon’s stain on their party with their ham-handed clumsiness and embarrassingly puritanical sexual obsession.

And so now we arrive at their current “opportunity,” the presidency of Barack Obama. But despite their best efforts, despite the continued though greatly diminished reach of talk radio, despite the rise of the Internet to a dominant position in our society, and despite an entire “news” network conceived and micromanaged by Nixon’s old press flack bent on historic revenge, during Obama’s time in office they have, devastatingly, found themselves wandering a scandal desert, chasing after innumerable mirages of fake scandals and false images of their promised land of Righteous Payback.

Such is the existence of the modern right: they have convinced themselves that Barack Obama, whose father was born in Kenya and whose middle name is Hussein, is an anti American fifth columnist and who must, by necessity, therefore be the most corrupt and scandal ridden president ever. But, inexplicably, exasperatingly — sooooooooo frustratingly — they have not been able to make any of their many charges stick, not legally, politically, or in the court of public opinion.

It has been termed “scandal envy,” the sense on the right that Republicans are always getting unfairly caught up in made up scandals while the wily Democrats somehow always slip the noose they, in contrast, fully deserve. Most of them don’t view the scandals that trip up right wing Republicans as legitimate. They see the scandals and controversies as political theater made up by insincere people bent on suppressing the free speech of good, honest, upstanding, and thoroughly decent right wing Republicans. Most on the right seem unable to grasp why Todd Aiken’s comments about “legitimate rape” are, uh, problematic. They don’t see the big deal in his or Rush Limbaugh’s bizarre misapprehensions about physiology. Though most will at least acknowledge that Cliven Bundy’s extemporizations on “the Negro” don’t play well to a wider audience these days, they have no problem with Paul Ryan saying essentially the same thing, only with a more polished smile.

Since they see the scandals people on their side fall into as illegitimate, it perhaps should not be all that surprising if the leaders and strategists on the right conclude that they should be able to trip Democrats up with similarly, in their eyes, made up and phony scandals. “Hey,” you can imagine them thinking, “if those damn Democrats can trap our good people in fake scandals, why can’t we do the same to those evil enemies of the Real America?”

And with a base starved for revenge and primed to believe the worst about the socialist/fascist Islamist/libertine evil genius/incompetent boob currently occupying We the People’s house, selling the congregation item after item from their product line of manufactured “scandals” is child’s play. The gewgaws range from Solyndra, Fast and Furious, and the IRS on the “respectable” end to “Obamaphones,” birtherism, accusations that Obama is a secret Muslim, and tales of Cliven Bundy’s oppression just a little further along towards the fringe.

But no bit sells so well as Benghazi. Benghazi will deliver the payback they’ve been waiting forty years for. They feel it. They know it. They believe it with as much faith as they believe anything. The Nixonian pallor will be lifted from the GOP brand like sins from the souls of the newly faithful. The Republican party and the right will be healed of the wounds that the criminal Nixon inflicted on them four decades ago. And they will be so healed by the blood of the four Americans whose deaths in Benghazi they show no shame in exploiting.

Cross posted at Daily Kos.

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