10 Phony Scandals the GOP May Waste Your Tax Dollars Investigating
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The stormy years of the Clinton administration were marked by an endless series of trumped up 'gates, from Travelgate to Billingate to Golfgate. They were snappily branded pseudo-scandals concocted by the Right and repeated ad nauseum across its noise machine in an ultimately effective campaign to derail the agenda of a Democrat in the Oval Office.
With the GOP taking control of the House in January, get ready for an encore. As Politico reported during the run-up to November’s midterms, “a handful of aggressive would-be committee chairmen — led by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas) — are quietly gearing up for a possible season of subpoenas not seen since the Clinton wars of the late 1990s.”
According to Politico, Issa, an alleged former car thief who became the richest member of Congress by selling anti-theft gizmos, is “eyeing a massive expansion of oversight for next year, including hundreds of hearings” and “the creation of new subcommittees.” The Washington Post notes that Issa, who was forced to say he regretted calling Obama, “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times,” has already “reveled in his role as ‘annoyer in chief,’ peppering the administration with hundreds of letters raising the specter of wrongdoing and demanding information.”
Smith is notable for his insistence that “99 percent of Americans would support” torturing terror suspects, and a very serious exchange with Eric Holder in which he insisted that the attorney general use the phrase “radical Islam” more frequently because, as the Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins put it, “there can be no success in the War on Terror unless you are using the magical words!”
What will they dig into? There’s a lot of government activities that could sorely use some sunlight, but don’t expect showboating GOP back-benchers trying to impress the Tea Partiers to expend much energy improving American governance. To get a sense of where they might head with their newfound investigative powers, you need only follow the pseudo-scandals the Right has pushed in the first two years of the Obama era.
Here are seven of most ridiculous, each and every one of which could become prime material for that endless series of committee hearings coming our way in the House of Representatives.
The Russians are coming! Or maybe it’s just the Associate Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
One of the most shallow and factually dubious conservative gripes in recent years holds that the Obama administration has circumvented Congressional oversight by appointing a series of “czars” -- high-level advisers -- and that this is both bad and unprecedented.
House minority whip Eric Cantor, R-Virgina, and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, are just a few of the prominent Republicans who have taken to the editorial pages to decry, in the latter’s words, this “dangerous precedent that undermines the Constitution’s guarantee of separated powers.”
Of course, advisers are only unprecedented in the parallel universe inhabited by consumers of Fox News. As Think Progress noted, the czars have titles and are only referred to as czars by the press, and many hold positions that required them to be confirmed by Congress. Such advisers have existed since Andrew Jackson’s time in the White House in the 1830s, and George W. Bush was quite fond of them during his presidency (much to the total lack of chagrin of conservative good-government types like Darell Issa).
2. Hype About the New Black Panthers
It’s hard to imagine getting through the next two years without a serious investigation of the Justice Department’s decision not to file serious federal charges based on a Fox News-driven story that the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait called “the most widespread and mainstream right-wing effort to exploit racial fears against Obama."
Those fears center around the “New Black Panther Party,” a fringe group of racist black nationalists who number in the dozens nationwide. They’ve made scenes at school board meetings and one of the group’s leaders shoved some reporters when he was working security for former Rep. Cynthia McKinney a few years back.
Among the many heinous crimes the hate-filled political theater troupe hasn’t committed, the New Black panthers are most notorious for what the Right considers to be a serious case of voter intimidation. It went down when a single member stood outside a Philadelphia polling place in 2008 with a nightstick (a second member of the group was present as well, but it turned out he was a registered poll watcher).
The problem with the story is that no voters reported being intimidated. The cops escorted the guy away from the polling place and the DoJ sued three members of the group, but it didn’t file criminal charges against the organization or send any of its members to Gitmo. This has outraged many on the Right.
A non-story, except it has everything a Fox News segment producer could want. As Media Matters noted, Murdoch’s crew “hyped the manufactured scandal more than 100 times” during just one six-week period last summer.
The media watchdog also pointed out an interesting fact about the nontroversy: that just about every serious-minded person, including even some “Fox News contributors and Republicans,” dismissed the “Fox-hyped phony scandal.” Media Matters offered a laundry list of right-leaning experts dismissing the case as nothing more than a partisan witch-hunt.
As Politico reported, Abigail Thernstrom, the conservative Republican co-chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission (and American Enterprise Institute scholar), called the Republican charges "overheated rhetoric filled with insinuations and unsubstantiated charges."
“This doesn't have to do with the Black Panthers,” she said. “This has to do with their fantasies about how they could use this issue to topple the [Obama] administration. ... My fellow conservatives on the commission had this wild notion they could bring [attorney general] Eric Holder down and really damage the president.”
Now those “fellow conservatives” control the House, so expect to hear more Fox-worthy Republican speeches on the dangers posed by the New Black Panthers than there are actual New Black Panthers.
3. Beating a Dead Acorn
If you think setting up the largest advocate for America’s poor with a cheap, faked video (that the media lapped up with a spoon), passing an un-Constitutional law penalizing it and eventually driving it out of existence under a barrage of innuendo was punishment enough for ACORN’s great crime of trying to register lots of minority voters, you don’t understand how the modern GOP operates.
After all, the organization had already declared bankruptcy when a Republican Rep issued a report earlier this year calling the group an organized crime outfit. That lawmaker was none other than Darrell Issa, who on Election Day told MSNBC that while, sure, jobs are a big deal, "it's very important that we look at ACORN as something that occurred, it was criminal activity and it used government money.”
4. The Unions
Conservatives love to push stories about thuggish and corrupt union organizers for a very simple and straightforward reason: it distracts Americans from the single most important thing they need to know about organized labor, which is that workers who participate in collective bargaining get 28 percent more in wages and benefits and have better health care and more retirement security than their non-union counterparts.
Last year, both grabbed hold of a story of a Tea Partier who was allegedly assaulted by a member of SEIU outside a Missouri town-hall meeting. The reality, according to the Wichita Daily Eagle, is that there was a scuffle, captured on “grainy and poorly lit” video. Both sides claimed they’d been assaulted by the other party and according to the available evidence, it was “inconclusive as to what exactly happened.”
In Glenn Beck’s alternative universe, however, the fact that SEIU wasn’t prosecuted for the shoving match somehow became a dark conspiracy on the part of local Democratic officials, urged on by the Obama administration at the behest of SEIU’s thuggish leadership.
5. Paranoid Tales of Voter Fraud
What ties ACORN, SEIU and the New Black Panthers together? In the conservative fever swamps, all are part of a well-orchestrated leftist plot to disenfranchise “Real” (read “white”) Americans and steal elections in this supposedly “center-Right” nation.
As I wrote in October, “Every serious analysis has concluded that voter fraud is a non-issue, a charge fabricated on the back of a very small number of legitimate cases.” It’s not a new charge, and George W. Bush’s Justice Department made sniffing out “voter fraud” a top priority. What did they find? According to Columbia University scholar Lorraine Minnite, author of The Myth of Voter Fraud, they could prove just 26 cases in the entire United States between 2002 and 2005.
Out of hundreds of millions of votes cast over two election cycles, the total included five people who could not vote because they’d been convicted of felonies, 14 non-citizens, and five people who voted twice in the same election.
Again, a non-issue. Nevertheless, we can expect a Congressional probe into the weighty question of whether our elections are being stolen by illegal Mexicans, or dead people, or dead, illegal Mexican people.
6. White House Job Offers
The Right has actually dubbed this one “Job-Gate,” and it may be the greatest non-story ever told.
Brace yourself, because this may come as a shock: political parties try to win elections. Also, when you become president of the United States, you tend to gain some influence within your party.
When the White House made the calculation, right or wrong, that two incumbent Democrats would be better prepared to win in the general election than their primary challengers — Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania and Andrew Romanoff in Colorado — they offered the two men high-level appointments to drop out of their respective races.
This is not uncommon, and legal experts all agree that as an intra-party matter it was all completely legal. But the Right called it bribery, and in May, Darrell Issa told The Hill that the affair “could be President Barack Obama's Watergate scandal.”
Although you may have missed it, the so-called Climategate scandal that supposedly uncovered climatologists fixing their data to support the theory of man-made global warming has been thoroughly debunked. But the idea that anthropogenic climate change is a fraud -- an elaborate socialist plot perpetrated by tens of thousands of scientists working in thousands of research units in dozens of countries -- is one of the most enduring conspiracy theories in America, at least among American conservatives.
Three independent panels have reviewed the evidence and exonerated the scientists of wrongdoing, but as Chris Mooney reports, “Several top House Republicans have indicated that they may want to hold ‘Climategate’ hearings (although more recently, there has been some apparent backing away from this idea).”
Time will tell.
8. Zombie Lies Never Die: How the Stimulus Failed the Right
Although many economists argued that the stimulus package was too small for the task at hand when it was passed (and have continued making the argument since), there is very little doubt that it saved jobs.
Specifically, according to the Congressional Budget Office, it:
- Raised real gross domestic product (GDP) by between 1.4 percent and 4.1percent
- Lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.8 percentage points and 2.0 percentage points
- Increased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.6 million, and people
- Increased the number of “full-time-equivalent” jobs by 2.0 million to 5.2 million compared with what would have occurred otherwise
Perhaps more to the point, as the Washington Post reported, “The massive economic stimulus package President Obama pushed through Congress last year is coming in on time and under budget – and with strikingly few claims of fraud or abuse.” A White House report, backed by outside watchdogs, found that “stimulus contracts and grants have so far been relatively free of the fraud charges that plague more routine government spending.” “Certainly, the fraud and waste element has been smaller than I think anything anybody anticipated,” Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, told the Post.
But, it’s still the socialism, of course, so expect the House Oversight Committee to turn that reality on its head.
9. Muslims Working in the Capitol
With all the Tea Partiers entering Congress, we may see weirder stuff than these mundane scandals.
As you may already know, conservatives have come up with all sorts of bizarre tales about the all-powerful Muslim community bringing Real America to its knees.
They’ve seen evidence of creeping Sharia in Oklahoma courtrooms, their keen eyes have noticed Islamic crescents tucked away in a 9/11 memorial in Pennsylvania and hidden in a U.S. Missile Defense Agency logo, and many believe that Dunkin’ Donuts and Food Network star Rachael Ray are covert Jihadis.
But one Islamic conspiracy hit closer to home for the Fear-Mongers’ Caucus. Last October, The Hill reported:
Republican members of the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus said the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have tried to plant “spies” within key national-security committees in order to shape legislative policy.
Reps. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.) and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), citing the book Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld that’s Conspiring to Islamize America, called for the House sergeant at arms to investigate whether CAIR had been successful in placing interns on key panels.
Greg Sargent called Myrick’s office and confirmed that “the group does not have a list of names of the infiltrators.” But now that they have subpoena power, maybe they’ll try to generate one.
10. Mexico’s Nonexistent War on America
The Reconquista, as it is known, is a popular meme on the Right. It holds that Mexico is looking to reclaim land it lost in the Mexican-American War, through mass migration and the infiltration of criminal gangs.
There are variations on the theme -- like Jan Brewer’s contention that heads are rolling all over Arizona. The most entertaining was a story dubbed “Laredo-gate,” which ignited the conservative blogosphere back in July. According to a host of right-wingers, two ranches in Laredo, Texas were taken over by marauding hordes of Los Zetas gansters. It was a Mexican invasion!!
The police were outgunned, and a tense stand-off ensued. But, as is often the case, it wasn’t the foreign invasion that really pissed off the Right-bloggers -- and a few conservative newspaper columnists -- it was the cover-up. Not only had an act of war been committed against the United States, but the dreaded EM-ESS-EM refused to report it!
Of course, that wasn’t so much a reflection of the media’s pro-Mexican-invasion bias, as it was the fact that the entire story was complete nonsense, as every local law enforcement agency was quick to clarify.
It’s unlikely that the Invasion of Laredo will merit a Congressional probe -- it may well be too far out there. But the larger narrative of rampant criminality spilling over the border with Mexican immigration is another story.
The reality is that there has been zero evidence of a drug-fueled violent crime wave along the border. The opposite is true: the Southern border region is one of the safest areas in the United States. But last year, Lamar Smith urged the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on “the surge in drug-related violence on the U.S.-Mexico border” that he “attributed to Mexican drug cartels, fighting turf battles and competing to control the U.S. drug trade markets.”
Smith will no doubt see his wish fulfilled in the coming Congress.