PostScript: Krauthammer and de-Watergating Benghazi
An unusual thing happened at the top of Charles Krauthammer's column today. He urged caution, specifically to the GOP, in comparing Benghazigate to previous bigtime Presidential scandals. Overhyping the scandal in terms of what, politically, it might accomplish -- bringing down or at least deeply embarrassing the president -- minimizes the facts of the case, which Krauthammer saw as plenty damning on their own.
As Benghazigate plays out in the PostScript bunker, PostScript has come to learn much about the dynamics of those commenters who enjoy doing the very thing Krauthammer warned against here. She has seen several who characterize Benghazigate as much worse than Watergate; she has seen people say that at least Nixon had the common decency to resign, etc. Essentially, the internet wilds and anonymous commenting do not strike her as the kind of place where people follow suggestions for decorum or persuasiveness from The Post's columnists. This is a gleeful, boundary-pushing culture; it will not be told what to do.
That is what PostScript thought.
Bizarrely, though, PostScript found almost no references to the Watergateyness of Benghazi. Just a few days ago Watergate overflowed. Now, almost totally dry. Here are the sum total she found, wading through the 2,500 comments:
Bob Woodward says Benghazi is similar to Watergate, shouldn't be dismissed. That settles it.
(Note the use of Bob Woodward of the mainstream media.)
Whatever Nixon did was elementary compared to what BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA is doing to us.
Two main differences between Obama and Nixon: (1) Obama doesn't record his conversations (2) the Democrat Party doesn't have their own version of Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee.
Well, there is a third difference. Unlike Watergate, ordinary Americans across the country are feeling intimidated by their own government today. There is a chill wind blowing from Washington.
It appears that the House is going have to go with a select committee a la Watergate, after Miller's evasive answers.
PostScript is not at all suggesting that this curious allegiance to Krauthammer is in any way a conspiracy that goes straight to the top. She is merely noting her own surprise at all the spontaneous agreement that the Watergate comparison isn't helpful.
After all, the anonymous Internet is a strange place where strange things happen. Krauthammer gets accused of using left-wing talking points:
The overselling of Benghazi is the new left wing talking point. They are trying it out all over, not working. Next week it will be something else; all the Republicans' fault of course.
And grammar fights break out that goes way over PostScript's head:
Sorry, Charlie. "If this activity took place, it's inappropriate " is not subjunctive. It's past indicative. The speaker is not implying that "this activity took place" is contrary to fact; this form of "if" leaves its truth as undetermined. The past subjunctive form would be "if this activity had taken place, it would have been inappropriate".
It's unfair to suggest that Mr. Carney was implying that it didn't happen by characterizing his statement as [contrary-to-fact] subjunctive.
That is incredibly disconcerting. PostScript doesn't have the grammar knowledge base to know who is right on her own, and can only rely on expert testimony to understand the issue. But there's no way of knowing the experts are unbiased; indeed, the usual experts would be The Washington Post Opinions Page Copy Desk, which approved Krauthammer's use of "subjunctive" in the first place! And a website that backs up the copy desk could have come from them too! PostScript can't help feeling that something here is being covered up.
Here comes the filibuster battle
Greg Sargent over at Plum Line has a big scoop today: Harry Reid is planning to devote July to nominations and will "go nuclear" if necessary -- using majority-imposed reform to end the ability of minorities to block executive branch and judicial nominations.
This is exactly the right path for Reid, the Senate majority leader, to take.
It's a complex situation. For most Democratic senators, the preferred solution is almost certainly Republican retreat to more traditional opposition, in which filibusters were used very selectively against a handful of nominees, and other forms of obstruction (the kind that delay, not kill, nominations) were also used selectively. Republicans are not blocking everything; if they were, majority-imposed reform would be an easy call. What they are doing, however, is forcing every nominee to get 60 votes for permission to take a final vote, and most (but not all) Republicans are voting against allowing a final confirmation vote on every nominee they oppose. They're also blocking some positions -- the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, possibly one or more seats on the DC Circuit Court -- by refusing to allow final votes on any nominee in order to prevent the agencies from functioning.
The more Republicans obstruct, the more likely Democrats will decide that majority-imposed reform is better than the status quo. The trick for Republicans, then, is to stay just on the safe side of that line, at least if their goal is maximizing obstruction.
For Reid, the trick is to find a way to ratchet up the threat of reform in order to push Republicans as far away from that line as possible. That's a very difficult job; after all, he can hardly announce that he's okay with Republicans filibustering Smith as long as they don't filibuster Jones (thus inviting them to filibuster Smith, something he doesn't want but which might not trigger reform).
As far as I can see, Reid is doing an excellent job at this complex game; leaking this threat now and generally upping the ante on nominations in general seems to be exactly the way to go. Sargent's report has Reid ready to pull the trigger if Republicans defeat cloture on three specific upcoming executive branch nominees. That seems about the right way to play it; it's a tough, specific threat (ratcheting up!) while still leaving plenty of ambiguity about whether a slightly different configuration of obstruction would also trigger reform.
The other part of this is that the threat of including judicial nominations in reform should get Republicans' attention. In my view, both parties should be perfectly happy to move to simply-majority cloture on executive branch nominations. However, losing the ability to block judicial nominations, especially at the appeals level, would be a significant loss for the minority party. Perhaps it's enough to get them to back down.
Good for Harry Reid for engaging on this. Now let's see how Republicans respond.
7 pics of p-Op culture
"Space Oddity," Darrell Issa, "shameful," Kermit Gosnell, double mastectomy, rain, Bill Hader, Benghazi, "Stefan," IRS, Chris Hadfield, "talk to the hand," Brad Pitt's wife and St. Tropez. They all made their way into the national discourse this week. But how?
1.) "Wish I were golfing": At the start of President Obama's no-good week, he had to endure one multipronged question involving Benghazi and the IRS at a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. The look on President Obama's face says it all. And that was before the stuff about the Justice Department spying on the phone records of Associated Press reporters added to this week of woe.
2.) Team Angelina: Brad Pitt's wife, the actress Angelina Jolie, announced that she had a double mastectomy after discovering she had the gene that leads to higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It was a shocking and powerful revelation from a woman whose strength is as famous as her beauty.
3.) Later Hader: The announcement had everything: Saturday Night Live, a famous sketch comedian and his flamboyant character with a penchant for covering his face with his hands after describing the outrageous goings-on at New York City clubs. The announcement was the departure of Bill Hader from Saturday Night Live. "Stefan" and all of his other hilarious characters will be missed.
4.) GUILTY!: Kermit Gosnell was found guilty of three counts of murder in connection with the house of horrors masquerading as an illegal abortion mill in Philadelphia. What he did was abominable and he will be held accountable.
5.) Diddy redux: As if putting an exclamation point on his bad week, Mother Nature rained on President Obama during his press conference yesterday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. So, the president called for help. Not since an umbrella was used to protect P. Diddy from the oppressive St. Tropez sun in 2001 has a black man received so much attention for standing under one. Whereas Diddy had a valet named Farnsworth Bentley decked out in linen, the president had a Marine decked out in dress uniform.
6.) Space cadet: Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield spent his last hours aboard the International Space Station making a music video. The song was a reworked version of David Bowie's song "Space Oddity" with ISS-specific lyrics. Beautifully done. Really. All that guitar playing and floating around captured from different camera angles. But you wanna impress me? Do Janelle Monae's "Tightrope" in outer space.
7.) Quote of the week: In a back-and-forth with his congressional nemesis on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder shouted some truth to Rep. Darrell Issa as the California Republican talked over him: "No, I'm not going to stop talking now .The way you conduct yourself as a member of Congress is unacceptable and shameful." Translation: Talk to the hand.
Follow Jonathan Capehart on Twitter.
Gun march leader's 'criminal' view of the law
Adam Kokesh wants to lead a march of gun-toting protesters who believe the government is infringing on their Second Amendment rights through Washington, D.C., on July 4. And if you don't think you should take this nutty demonstration by the 31-year-old former Marine and radio talk show host seriously, perhaps a television interview from May 9 will snap you out of it.
We're going to stop criminals and I'm talking about DC chief of police Cathy Lanier, who said she's going to arrest us. And I understand that's to be expected, but that's a violation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution that she swore an oath to when she took that position.
The laws of the District, passed by the duly elected representatives of the people, dictate that it is illegal to carry a gun openly or concealed within its borders. But don't tell that to Kokesh. "[T]he individual right to be armed in public is being infringed upon and it would be in line with the Second Amendment to assert that right."
When Kokesh was read a statement from the Metropolitan Police Department that outlined once again what the law is, the wanna-be freedom fighter made an outlandish assertion.
Well, these criminals have made it clear they don't understand the law. They don't understand the Constitution and they don't even understand the definition of civil disobedience. What we are doing, we are going to deliberately break what we consider an unjust law in accordance with the highest law in the land.
Law enforcement officers who are sworn to serve and protect the public are "criminals"? The gun laws passed by the duly elected representatives of the people of the District are "unjust" because Kokesh disagrees with them? This sure is one slippery slope to anarchy if that loopy mindset were to take hold. Unfortunately, he has plenty of company on his absolute gun rights grassy knoll.
Kokesh's stated goal when he went public with this idea on May 6 was 10,000 RSVPs by June 1. When I wrote about the planned march on May 8, there were 2,673 RSVPs. When Kokesh did the WUSA9 interview the next day, he said he had "about 3,000" signed up. When The Post's David A. Fahrenthold and Peter Hermann wrote about Kokesh on Monday, they noted that "the number online was a little over 3,900." As of this writing at 8:31 a.m., there were 4,271 RSVPs.
At the rate he's going, he'll meet meet his goal. And Lanier will have her hands full.
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Why Obama's popularity still matters
Matt Yglesias asks on Twitter: "Given that Obama is ineligible for reelection, why do I care if scandals or pseudoscandals hurt him politically?"
1. Presidential popularity definitely has an effect on the coming midterm elections, both through recruiting effects and more directly on voters, who will be more likely to support Democrats if the Democrat in the White House is popular. That will also be true when it comes to recruitment for the 2016 cycle, too.
2. Presidential popularity probably has an effect on the next presidential election. For that, there's not much reason to care about scandals in the next couple of years, but as we get closer to 2016, it should matter.
3. Presidential popularity probably affects how influential the president is now, both with Congress and with everyone else who the president must influence in order to get things done.
Richard Neustadt actually argued that what matters isn't so much the president's actual popularity, but what Washingtonians perceive as the president's popularity -- and that it matters what they think of the president's overall popularity and also his popularity within their constituencies. Usually the polls are a good proxy for that, but not always; sometimes (and I think the first half of the Lewinsky scandal in 1998 was a good example) people inside the Beltway have been known to substitute their own judgement of what people are thinking with what the polls say.
What Neustadt says is that popularity affects people by making them more or less willing to give the president "leeway." That seems about right. When President Obama was still over 60 percent in the polls in early 2009, a few Republican senators were willing to break with their party and support the stimulus package; a year later, with the president under 50 percent and the Scott Brown election "showing" everyone in Washington that Obama was in trouble, no Republicans would have anything to do with him. On the other hand, Obama's continuing very strong support among Democrats has meant that he usually has a great deal of leeway from those within his party.
Remember, too, that presidents need things from lots of people, not just votes from members of Congress. Bureaucrats, lobbyists, governors and more: All of them have business with the White House, all of them have things the president wants and most of them have constituents to whom they must answer. The more they believe that their constituents like Obama, the more they're likely to go along with what he wants. There's no precise formula for this; it's more a question of tilting the scales during bargaining, or even, at the extremes, making some presidential preferences go from realistic to unrealistic.
So: The bottom line is that anyone who wants Obama to get what he wants during his second term should also want him to be popular. And anyone who wants Democrats to do well in 2014 (and 2016) should want him to be popular.