Scandalmania Has Turned Out to Be Just Another Bubble

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Jon Chait makes an astute observation today: even Republicans aren’t talking much about White House scandals anymore. Scandalmania—which just a few weeks ago was widely thought to mark the beginning of the end of Obama’s second term—has turned out to be little more than a typical DC feeding frenzy, one that’s fading away as quickly as it burst into our collective id. It still exists in the conservative fever swamps, of course, along with Obamaphones and death panels, but out in the real world Benghazi is mostly a military debacle; the IRS is just another bureaucratic screw-up; and the NSA’s surveillance programs are a garden variety policy dispute. So what happened?

The whole Obama scandal episode is a classic creation of a “narrative” — the stitching together of unrelated data points into a story. What actually happened is this: House Republicans passed a twisted account of a hearing to ABC’s Jonathan Karl, who misleadingly claimed to have seen it, creating the impression that the administration was caught in a major lie. Then the IRS story broke, which we now see was Republicans demanding a one-sided audit and thus producing the impression of one-sided treatment. In that context, legitimate controversies over Obama’s civil-rights policies became the “three Obama scandals,” exposing a government panopticon, if not a Nixonian administration bent on revenge.

The collapse of the Benghazi story happened very quickly, when Jake Tapper’s reporting found that Karl had peddled a bogus story. (It’s notable that the only misconduct in both the Benghazi and the IRS stories was committed by House Republicans.) But the scandal cloud lingered through the still-extant IRS scandal, which in turn lent the scandal odor to the civil-liberties dispute. Now that the IRS scandal has turned into a Darrell Issa scandal, we’re left with … an important dispute over domestic surveillance, which has nothing to do with scandal at all. The entire scandal narrative was an illusion.

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