Opinion

The Great Debate

Benghazi: The zombie scandal

Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton speaks to members of the World Affairs Council in Portland, Oregon

We’re not making scandals the way we used to.

The House of Representatives has now voted, virtually along party lines, to create the Benghazi Select Committee that conservatives have long called for. The atmosphere of scandal that has surrounded Bill and Hillary Clinton for decades has gotten, at least temporarily, a renewed lease on life.

Will the committee produce enough news to revive the idea of the Clintons’ dubious past and inject the poison of illegitimacy into Hillary Clinton’s much-speculated 2016 presidential campaign?

Not likely. Today’s political scandals seem unable to develop the momentum needed to exert real political influence. There’s sound and fury — adding up to an electoral and prosecutorial nothing.

But does this mean the newest Benghazi investigation will end the scandal, one way or another? That’s even less probable. It’s more likely that Benghazi will join the parade of zombie scandals that hover between life and death for what seems an eternity.

boehnerFor months House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) resisted conservative calls to appoint a select committee. Then the conservative monitoring group Judicial Watch got hold of an email showing that a White House official had told then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, before she appeared on the Sunday talk shows to discuss the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, to portray it as “rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”

America noir: The biggest ‘gate’ of all

ILLUSTRATION: Matt Mahurin

It is scandal time again in Washington, with a triple-header to boot – Benghazi-gate, IRS-gate and AP-gate. The “gate” being the obligatory suffix ever since the biggest “gate” of them all: Watergate. How do they rate? Well, Carl Bernstein, the reporter who helped break the Watergate story, has gone so far as to compare AP-gate to the transgressions of President Richard M. Nixon.

But no matter how much the media may froth over them, none of these scandals has the heft, the cultural, political and social weight of Watergate. These are all skirmishes in an age of “gotcha” polarization. Watergate was no skirmish, even if some Republicans at the time and even today characterize it as such. It was a vast, complex metaphor for a country in extremis – which is why it still dwarfs every other aspiring “gate.”

Metaphors function much like art, and you might consider Watergate not as a scandal but as a gigantic movie. Not just any movie blockbuster, either, but as America’s epic noir. Film noir was a genre that began in the late 1940s, when America was forced to confront the darkness within itself after World War II. “Film noir” translates into  “black film, and the noir movies of the time were literally and figuratively dark. They involved corruption, deceit, amorality and the potential rot of the American soul – capturing the anxiety of the Cold War era.

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