One of the key challenges for House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and his congressional Republican colleagues yesterday was expectations. There have already been multiple hearings and reports on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and Americans already know what happened. For those willing to look past silly and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, there really aren't any remaining unanswered questions.
But wait, Issa and his friends said, this hearing will be different. Now we have whistleblowers. This is will be The Day Everything Changes. This was a hearing so significant, so monumental, that Republican staffers on Capitol Hill felt the need to make movie posters to help promote it.
Issa over-promised and under-delivered. The dramatic hearing that Republicans and Fox News hoped to use to bring down the Obama presidency and permanently derail Hillary Clinton's still-unknown ambitions did neither -- there's still no conspiracy; there's still no cover-up; there's still no political scandal.
This is not to say we learned nothing from the hearing. When I read through transcripts and watched the back and forth betweeen lawmakers and witnesses last night, it was clear that Gregory Hicks, the former U.S. diplomat in Libya and Issa's star witness, offered details of the attack itself that were riveting and previously unreported. That said, in terms of the larger story, the details may have been fascinating, but they didn't break new ground. Indeed, conservative allegations that Hicks' perspective had been deliberately suppressed as part of a cover-up is absurd -- he'd already spoken at length to the independent panel that investigated the attack.
So what was the point of yesterday's theatrics, beyond giving far-right activists a morale boost and giving Fox News a ratings boost? What do we know now that we didn't know 24 hours ago? Eight months after the attack itself, I know Republicans think there's been a cover-up, but I haven't the foggiest idea what it is they think has been covered up. For all the talk of a political "scandal," no one seems capable of pointing to anything specific that's scandalous. For all the conspiracy theories, there's no underlying conspiracy to be found.
Marc Ambinder noted last night, "There are plenty of intelligent criticisms of Obama's foreign policy. Today's Benghazi debate is the classic example of an unintelligent, fairly easy way out of actually engaging." Kevin Drum added:
Was Benghazi mishandled? Maybe. Are there lessons to be learned? Probably. Is there a scandal or a coverup? There's never been any evidence of it, and there still isn't. This is a show that goes on and on without end, but it never delivers a payoff. Issa and his colleagues need to start paying more attention to stuff that actually matters, and give up on the Fox-friendly conspiracy theories that never pan out. Enough's enough.
But is it? That same paragraph could have been written in December. Or February. Or April. It remains true, of course, but it's proving remarkably difficult to dissuade Republicans from their white whale. Maybe, they think, Benghazi hearing #9 will turn up something hearings #1 through #8 missed. Perhaps a little more digging will turn up some shred of evidence that the president's handling of the attack was politically motivated, even though there's no sane reason that explains a political motivation.
Enough should be enough at this point, but if recent history is any guide, the next pointless hearing is just around the corner.