House Speaker John Boehner said he had instructed every committee chairman to step-up oversight of the Obama administration. The strategy was to nitpick everything the administration did, from national security to foreign policy to education to the economy to anything Obama said he did or did not support, and attack, attack, attack.
It appears that the practice didn’t end with Obama’s re-election in November.
Take, for example, the congressional hearings about the administration’s response to the attacks at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya.
Last week, Gregory N. Hicks, who succeeded Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who was killed in the attack, told the House Oversight Committee that more could have been done to protect Stevens and others slain in the attack.
Hicks, who was given whistleblower protection, appeared before the panel just weeks after House Republicans issued a blistering report that said the White House and State Department had ignored intelligence in the weeks and months before the attack.
That report wasn’t much different, however, from an independent one the administration commissioned after the attack happened.
And it certainly wasn’t the first time a U.S. embassy had come under such fire, although with few exceptions, the news coverage was not as intense nor was Congress’ criticism of the sitting president.
According to a Bob Cesca blog in the Huffington Post, there were 13 such attacks during George W. Bush’s tenure, including a suicide truck bombing on May 12, 2003, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in which al-Qaida terrorists stormed the diplomatic compound and killed 36 people, including nine Americans.
This week’s grandstanding follows reports that since 2010 some Internal Revenue Service agents had singled out conservative nonprofit groups for close scrutiny because of their opposition to Obama administration policies.
As reprehensible as that is, however, documents obtained by The Washington Post revealed that any critic of the administration was up for scrutiny, including those organizations that educate the public about the U.S. Constitution and voting rights, as well as anyone critical of the government.
“In the coming days and weeks, there will no doubt be a huge effort to Benghazify what took place, but it’s important to remember that this shouldn’t be a partisan issue—the IRS commissioner at the time of the activity was a Bush appointee and liberals have been targets of this kind of scrutiny as well,” Jed Lewison wrote for The Daily Kos.
In fact, the NAACP released documents in 2004 that showed that the Internal Revenue Service had threatened to revoke the organization’s tax-exempt status because then-Chairman Julian Bond “condemned” Bush policies during a speech.
What the Republicans are banking on is being able to whip up enough frenzy and cloud what’s left of Americans’ memories about those events.
It should come as no surprise that the party in power tries to use the rules that bar political campaigns from claiming tax-exempt status to their advantage.
The so-called 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, not to be confused with the more familiar 501(c)(3)religious and charitable groups, have blurred the line between advocating policies and trying to elect or defeat candidates.
Administrations have always tried to shut down the critics and boost supporters. There is no surprise in that, but to hear congressional Republicans tell it, partisan politics have sunk to a low that even they cannot stomach.
In the embassy, consulate and mission attacks, we must remember that America has been at war for more than a dozen years. The nation – at home and abroad – is a target. To suggest that any administration – Bush or Obama – was or is simply indifferent to the welfare of the country is inaccurate and irresponsible.
There may be major disagreements about how U.S. safety should be achieved; there may be major disputes about whether any particular policy is effective, whether enough resources are provided to get the job done or whether it can be done, but there is no argument that it is in no president’s interest to see the U.S. and its citizens perilously suffer because of political rancor.
What the GOP may hope to gain from these sideshows, perhaps, are some added congressional seats in 2014 and an edge in the 2016 presidential election. But the constant nitpicking and declaring the sky is falling clearly is not of service to the country and, ultimately, may not be to partisan politics.
The mess Republicans make now may yet be theirs to clean up the next time they get a chance to govern.
Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”