Republicans could make an easy hit on the Obama administration by highlighting the State Department's apparent bureaucratic blundering during and after the deadly terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last fall, but they refuse to settle for such a small political prize. Instead, they have got themselves all steamed up and snarling about heinous, impeachable offenses that are figments of their imaginations.
The latest round of House hearings about the Benghazi incident provides a perfect example of how American politics has been warped and gummed up by bombastic, partisan extremism. A cool, methodical inquiry could well uncover serious mistakes and provide remedies so that future incidents can be thwarted before more American diplomats are killed in the line of duty. But the current generation of Republican lawmakers does not know how to do cool. Hot rhetoric more suited to a Glenn Beck tirade seems to be the only way they know how to communicate.
A prime example is Rep. Steve King of Iowa. On Wednesday, he said he did not know "what took place, and who was where doing what and why," yet he declared, "I believe that it's a lot bigger than Watergate, and if you link Watergate and Iran-Contra together and multiply it times maybe 10 or so, you're going to get in the zone where Benghazi is."
Yup, Mr. King does not actually know any details, but he is sure Benghazi is vastly bigger than the two biggest political scandals of the last 40 years. Either Mr. King does not really have a clue what Watergate and Iran-Contra were all about or he simply thinks if he really, really believes, wishes upon a star, picks a crop of four-leaf clovers and asks Santa, he and his party will luck into a scandal big enough to topple a president they despise.
That seems to be what Mike Huckabee is praying for. On Monday, the former preacher and presidential candidate said on his radio show, "I believe that before it's all over, this president will not fill out his full term. I remind you, as bad as Watergate was, because it broke the trust between the president and the people, no one died. This is more serious because four Americans did in fact die."
Of course, none of these folks were calling for impeachment of President George W. Bush in 2001 when he and his top advisors ignored warnings of an impending attack and 3,000 people died on the morning of September 11. That was a failure that went right to the top. Whatever lack of foresight there may have been at Benghazi, the fault would appear to lie with mid-level bureaucrats (as well as with a Congress that failed to provide adequate funding for State Department security).
It is a fever dream for Republicans to think they can bring down President Obama with this pipsqueak of a scandal. Possibly, though, they could do some harm to former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the strongest Democratic prospect for the 2016 presidential election. A smartly targeted investigation might do that.
More likely, though, Republicans will continue to overreach and come off looking like hyper-partisan, blustering witch hunters.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.