Today Hillary Clinton will appear before the House Select Committee on Benghazi in a likely futile attempt to rebut the fever dreams of cover-up and conspiracy that the committee’s Republican members have gleaned from the comments section at Breitbart. It will be a fantastic piece of theater so far removed from the terrible events that occurred at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, that it might as well be occurring on the other side of a galactic wormhole. The hearing’s participants could speak gibberish for all we are really going to learn about the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. Assuming there even is anything more to learn that seven prior congressional investigations have not turned up.
It is a truism of modern political horse-race coverage that reporters are not really interested in accurately explaining a candidate’s positions and policies to the audience. The reason the TV cameras are turned on the candidate every single second is in hopes of catching a gaffe, that race-altering goof that undermines the message he or she is trying to pitch to voters. Campaigns are a masochistic exercise in sameness every day – the same stump speech, the same canned answers to variations of the same questions. The gaffe throws a candidate’s narrative, the story she is pitching to explain why we should vote for her, completely off course, or feeds into the opposition’s own narrative of a candidate’s failings.
But it is good for ratings and website clicks and selling newspapers to those who still buy them, which is why reporters chase gaffes like Ahab chasing his white whale.
Sometimes that gaffe is a slip of the tongue that briefly pulls aside the mask affixed in place by handlers and political consultants to reveal a candidate’s true feelings about an issue or group of people – think Mitt Romney in 2012 telling Soledad O’Brien he was “not concerned about the very poor,” an awkward phrasing that fed the Obama camp’s narrative that the former Massachusetts governor was an out-of-touch plutocrat more interested in enriching his cronies than helping those in society who need it most. Sometimes it’s an awkward gesture at the wrong moment, such as George H.W. Bush looking at his watch during a 1992 presidential debate, which helped feed in voters’ minds the narrative that he was a cloistered politician who felt that having to go out grubbing for votes was beneath him.
The hope of inducing that type of campaign-altering gaffe is really the reason why the select committee is dragging Hillary Clinton up to Capitol Hill today. No matter what the most rabid right-wingers think, these hearings are not about investigating a cover-up the way the Watergate or Iran-contra hearings were. They are not about figuring out what really happened in Benghazi, because we already have dozens of reports produced by other congressional committees, federal agencies, and the military to explain what happened and why.
No, what the Republicans want – what they need in order to justify the colossal effort they have put into building Benghazi up to be worse that Iran-contra plus Watergate and Teapot Dome times eleventy billion – is a Clinton gaffe along the lines of “What difference does it make.” Only worse. Something that will rip off the Democratic frontrunner’s carefully spit-polished image and reveal the shrill, corrupt, power-mad harridan underneath. The woman who callously let four Americans die while she massaged talking points and worried that calling the tragedy a terrorist attack would make her look bad.
You know, the real Hillary Clinton.
Because this has been the Republican way with Hillary Clinton for 25 years now. No matter how many investigations clear her of any wrongdoing on an issue, the GOP just cannot accept it. There must always be one piece of information it did not turn up, one thread it failed to pull until the whole sweater unraveled.
The only question is how they will go about it. Will they grill her like a salmon, coming at her from every angle, interrupting, badgering, trying to confuse her until the internal dam that has always successfully kept her bottomless evil at bay finally bursts? Or, as Brian Beutler argues, will they be polite and restrained while testing her memory of isolated details to try and trip her up? And by doing so, finally revealing some monstrous side of Hillary Clinton to the general public, cratering her poll numbers and ensuring Marco Rubio’s easy ascent to the White House?
Because at heart, this is all just one long political attack ad, a sequel to "Hillary: The Movie" in the guise of a congressional investigation. It’s theater of the absurd for an audience of suckers.
Highlights from the 11-hour hearing:
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