It's been a few days since House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that what Benghazi conspiracy theorists really need is yet another committee to complement the seven other congressional committees that have already investigated the deadly 2012 attack. This time, however, it'll be special select committee, which will presumably do what's already repeatedly been done.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a House Intelligence Committee member, appeared on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday to dismiss the Republican obsession and to make a little news. "I don't think it makes sense, really, for Democrats to participate" in this latest investigation, Schiff said. "I think it's a tremendous red herring and a waste of taxpayer resources."
That's a fair assessment, though this election year, red herrings and wasting taxpayer resources on discredited conspiracy theories appear to be high on the House Republicans' list of priorities.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced that the House will vote on May 7 on whether to ask Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to appoint a special counsel to look into allegations the IRS illegally targeted conservative organizations for extra scrutiny. The action comes the same day House Republicans announced that Secretary of State John Kerry has been subpoenaed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to testify on the 2012 Benghazi attack and Speaker John A. Boehner said he plans to call for a select committee to begin a new probe into how the administration handled the Sept. 11, 2012, terror attack.
As a matter of substance, we appear to be quickly approaching a point of genuine partisan madness. As the Benghazi conspiracy theory evaporates, House Republicans create a select committee for no particular reason. As the IRS conspiracy theory unravels, House Republicans demand a special prosecutor for imaginary reasons.
But as a political matter, the fact that GOP lawmakers are going all in -- embracing a self-indulgent, all-conspiracy-all-the-time agenda with reckless enthusiasm -- tells us something important about how Republicans perceive the state of play against the White House.
For example, the focus on the Affordable Care Act and the economy has obviously shifted. Indeed, the very idea of House Republicans legislating has become something of a punch-line -- the GOP-led House won't pass immigration reform, won't come up with a health care plan, won't consider a credible jobs bill, won't raise the minimum wage, won't consider background checks, won't touch pay equity, won't vote on ENDA, won't create infrastructure jobs, and won't extend unemployment benefits, but by golly, they still love their discredited conspiracy theories.
And at first blush, we know why: this election year, Republicans have prioritized keeping the GOP's far-right base in a state of perpetual rage for the next five-and-a-half months. This is what they've come up with. I guess it beats governing.
But taking a step further, it's important to remember a phenomenon Paul Waldman once labeled "scandal envy."
It must be incredibly frustrating for the right that after five years, the near-constant search for a legitimate White House scandal has produced bupkis. Of all the various incidents that have popped up, the only thing that arguably rises to the level of a real controversy is NSA surveillance, but on this, the program started under Bush/Cheney and most Republicans like the administration's policies and whine incessantly when the president even talks about scaling back the surveillance state.
Republicans thought they had something with the job offer to Joe Sestak (remember the calls for an FBI special prosecutor?). Then maybe the "Fast & Furious" story. Or maybe Solyndra. Or Benghazi. Or the IRS. The new Watergate will turn up eventually, if only the GOP keeps digging.
As we talked about a couple of years ago, part of the underlying cause for the right's apoplexy is that they're absolutely convinced that President Obama is a radical criminal up to no good, which means there must be some kind of scandal somewhere.
And when the "scandals" unravel into nothing and the various investigations point to no actual wrongdoing, two things seem to happen. First, Republicans see the lack of proof as proof -- if it appears that Obama is running a scandal-free administration, it necessarily means he's hiding something awful. Second, some in the GOP make the transition to delusional thinking, convincing themselves that discredited controversies remain viable, evidence be damned.
In other words, the lack of proof to substantiate what Republicans believe appears to have driven some in the party a little crazy.
Nixon had Watergate; Reagan had Iran-Contra; Clinton had Lewinsky; Bush had more scandals than he knew what to do with (Plame, the U.S. Attorney purge, torture, etc.). There's an expectation that every White House will invariably have to deal with its share of damaging controversies.
In reality, however, Obama just isn't cooperating in the scandal department. His critics aren't wearing their desperation well.