Here’s the way a big part of the conservatives’ playbook works: Seize upon some troubling, real event, construct a narrative that casts it in dark terms and blame its occurrence on Pres. Obama and/or some member of his administration due to their incompetence, criminality or both. If the subsequent revelation of facts undercut the original narrative, then change it but without altering the guilty party or parties. Change the narrative as often as necessary as dictated by still newer facts. Just don’t change the identity of the guilty. If the aggregate of facts over time proves that each narrative is invalid, never admit to being wrong (1). Instead you can either persist with the invalid narrative(s) or deflect by offering up a false equivalence; which often begins with something like “Yeah but you guys…blah,blah, blah”. What follows is a sampler of recent instances where conservatives both in and out of the federal government put this strategy to work.
The president’s eligibility to serve: The birthers’ first claim was that Obama was not a “natural born US citizen” by dint of his birth in Kenya. This was buttressed by the appearance of a copy of an “official Kenyan birth certificate”. Unfortunately, the forger who created this fake document neglected to discover that the nation of Kenya didn’t exist in 1961, the year of Obama’s birth which has never been in dispute. What to do, what to do, especially after the president had produced the long-form of his Hawaiian birth certificate? Why, toss out the charge that it’s a forgery!!! Anyone who buys into this nonsense must also believe that having successfully passed through vettings by Hillary Clinton’s and John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaigns and having survived hundreds of court challenges, Obama would be so dumb as to make a fake birth certificate widely available for public and forensic analysis. This birther nonsense hasn’t really died, but it has morphed into a different narrative; i.e. Obama isn’t a “real” Amercian…he really isn’t one of us”.
The IRS “scandal” and ensuing House hearings: It IS troubling when the IRS, which is supposed to be apolitical, acts otherwise. Such was conservatives’ claim when it surfaced that certain agency employees had targeted Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny because these grass-roots political organizations had sought tax-exempt status. Surely this was all done at the direction of the White House; perhaps even the president himself. It took a while but facts did emerge that: (1) the targeting was within the purview of the IRS’ mission; (2) progressive groups were also targeted; (3) more Tea Party groups were examined because their applications for tax-exempt status out-numbered those of progressive groups by approximately 4 : 1; and (4) Tea Party groups got their tax-exempt status while some progressive groups did not. As of this writing, 39 different witnesses have testified that in no way was the IRS’ investigative work prompted by White House higher-ups.
What to do, what to do? The answer has been to keep the hearings going and thus create the illusion of their legitimacy while singling out one lone upper-level IRS employee as the villain though no crime had been identified. When this individual – Lois Lerner by name – twice exercised her Fifth Amendment rights against potential self-incrimination, she was held in contempt of Congress and the case against her referred to the Justice Department. At least there, Lerner has a better chance of getting a fair hearing in contrast to the House committee whose GOP members had decided on the existence of guilt before any of the facts were known. Meantime, conservatives persist in repeatedly referring to the IRS “scandal” while carefully avoiding any reference to those found innocent of any wrongdoing, especially the president and members of his White House inner circle.
The Benghazi “scandal” and ensuring hearings in both the House and Senate: The back-story is now well-known; i.e. In September of last year, prior to the national election, what came to be understood as a terrorist attack on a US State Department facility in Libya, resulted in the deaths of four of our citizens who worked there. In what can only be described as a rush to judgment, conservatives led by Mitt Romney, accused the president of refusing for weeks to acknowledge that terrorism was involved. This charge proved to be false when comments that Obama made two days after the attack came to light (2). Again, what to do, what to do? Change the narrative by alleging that the Obama administration had issued a “stand down” order to troops who could have quelled the uprising and saved lives. Flop, thud, so time to gin up a third narrative; this time a refusal by Obama and Sec. State Clinton to beef up security at the Libyan facility even as Ambassador Stevens who was on the ground there, had asked for more. Except, it turned out that he had made no such request. (3)
The Senate Intelligence Committee looked at all available evidence and came to the BIpartisan conclusion that while the deaths in Libyan might have been avoidable, neither the president nor the Secretary of State were guilty of criminal negligence or willful endangerment of the lives of our people there. Turning their backs on this report, House Republicans, who had held their own hearings, have now decided that what is needed is a select committee to pursue the investigation still further and with a fourth narrative; i.e. the administration wanted to cover up the fact that a terrorist attack had taken place.
The foregoing three exemplars hardly constitute a Forrest Gump “box of chocolates because you never know what you are going to get”. Rather, the reality is that conservatives work from a playbook that tells you pretty much exactly what to expect from them in the way of behavior. So far, it’s all been smoke and mirrors and you have to wonder if the general public has finally started to catch on.
1. Refusing to admit defeat in the face of overwhelming evidence, and/or concede even a single point are characteristics of a “zero sum game”.
2. You might remember that during the second presidential debate, Romney went into “attack mode’ with this charge. That’s when Obama set him up with a “Please proceed, governor” line. Within seconds, a transcript of the president’s “act of terror” statement was made public by the debate moderator, Candy Crowley. It may have been that at that moment, Romney’s chances of being elected president took a tumble.
3. A fact that House Republicans are working overtime to obscure is that they voted to cut back on funding for our embassies and overseas non-military facilities like the one in Libya.