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Benghazi Panel Isn't Even Politics. It's Entertainment.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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After watching Hillary Clinton’s testimony Thursday morning to the House select committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, I’m beginning to think I may have been wrong when I dubbed the inquiry the Committee to Perform Opposition Research for Republicans. Furthermore, Representative Kevin McCarthy also may have been wrong when he implied that the point of the panel was to harm Clinton.

I’m now leaning toward an alternate theory: The investigation is only superficially related to the 2016 election and is unlikely to harm the presumptive Democratic nominee. Instead, it's a way of using government funding to furnish content for conservative media. That's all. 

QuickTake Benghazi

There is general consensus, accepted by former Secretary of State Clinton and President Barack Obama, that the Benghazi attacks were a policy disaster. There’s a strong case to be made that the entire U.S. policy in Libya while Clinton was at state was a policy disaster, too. 

And yet, the Benghazi committee largely ignored those weak areas for Clinton, at least in the round of questioning.

Instead, the sharpest questions came from Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, who rehashed the old “talking points” debate, and from the Benghazi committee's chairman, Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who focused on e-mails between Clinton and Sidney Blumenthal, her friend and informal adviser.

To say that neither topic is likely to have any effect on the 2016 election would be an understatement.

Take the talking points debate: We’re to believe that the Obama administration invented a false cover story for the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi -- that there was a demonstration that got out of hand rather than a deliberate terrorist attack -- because the truth would have derailed the president's re-election campaign.  This was already fought out before the 2012 election and it’s hard to imagine that it would still resonate with swing voters four years later. 

But the bigger problem (apart from the fact that there doesn’t seem to have been a coverup) is the internal logic of the argument that there was one. Within a few days of the attack, pretty much everyone, including the president, publicly agreed about what had happened -- the supposed cover-up failed -- and yet the attack still made zero difference in the election. It didn't even change how the candidates talked about terrorism. 

Or consider the Blumenthal accusations – that he wrote lots of e-mails to Clinton that included information about Libya he had picked up here and there. I’m stumped as to why anyone should care. Although his involvement does give the committee a way to focus on the Clinton Foundation -- for which Blumenthal did some work -- so maybe at some point, perhaps well into Clinton’s first term, it will give the committee an excuse to grill Bill Clinton about his marriage.

Anyway, none of this is likely to have any effect on public opinion, except perhaps by dragging Congress’s approval ratings even lower. But it will provide fodder for conservative talk radio.

  1. Granted, foreign policy isn't usually a decisive issue in presidential elections. Still, given that the presumptive Democratic nominee was secretary of state, it would make sense to hit her on policy disasters on her watch.

  2. I suppose if that's the goal then we could argue about whether that's opposition research to dig up items that could cause electoral damage, or just providing content to conservative media outlets. Depends on whether or not they're being realistic about what will move swing voters.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net