(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

A masturbatory exercise in political theater: The Benghazi hearing showed exactly why Americans hate Congress

We learned nothing new. Nothing was accomplished. Is it any wonder these clowns have a 12% approval rating?

Sean Illing
October 23, 2015 7:05PM (UTC)

Depending on which poll you consult, something like 12 percent of the country approves of the job Congress is doing. If you want to know why that is, look no further than yesterday’s farcical Benghazi hearing.  Absolutely nothing of importance was accomplished. There were no surprises, no revelations, no “smoking guns.” No one involved or watching learned anything they didn’t already know about Libya or Benghazi or Hillary Clinton.

This hearing marked the latest chapter in the eighth congressional investigation into the attacks on the American embassy in Libya. It was the result of 17 months of probing and nearly $5 million of taxpayer dollars. And in the end it produced nothing but a masturbatory exercise in political theatre. One by one the Republicans on the committee reminded everyone why they hated Congress in the first place.


Rep. Susan Brooks, a Republican from Indiana, had her big moment when she dumped two stacks of Libya-related emails on the dais, one big and one small. The larger stack was from 2011 and the smaller stack was from 2012. “I can only conclude by your own records that there was a lack of interest in Libya in 2012,” Brooks said. “There was a lot of communication to you or from you in 2011, and that is when [Muammar Gaddafi] fell, but then when we go to 2012, Libya, Benghazi, Chris Stevens, they seem to fall of your radar – but it was getting worse.” 17 months of investigating and all she discovers is a reduction of emails with the words Libya, Benghazi, and Chris Stevens in it. Thank you, Congresswoman.

Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy was equally useless. After insisting the hearing was not, in fact, a politically motivated attack on Hillary, which of course it is, Gowdy grilled Clinton over who did and didn’t have her personal email address: “Help us understand how Sidney Blumenthal [Clinton’s political adviser] had that kind of access to you, Madame Secretary, but the ambassador did not.” Evidently this was supposed to score major points for the Republicans, but it never occurred to Gowdy to ask himself whether Ambassador Stevens had a direct line to Clinton that was easier and more secure than email (He did, obviously). Gowdy also sparred with Clinton over the meaning of the word “unsolicited,” for reasons I still can’t explain. Basically he had nothing to inquire about apart from Clinton’s email habits.

Rep. Peter Roskam, a Republican from Illinois, injected a bit of substance-free drama late in the evening. “I have heard one dismissive thing after another,” Roskam said with just the right amount of feigned indignation. “What did you do? What did you own?” Of course Roskam has no idea what Hillary did or didn’t do, but he sounded very serious when asking. Like every other Republican, Roskam didn’t seem particularly interested in uncovering something new. He wanted to make a show of himself, to perform for the cameras. At one point, he ripped documents in half in order to demonstrate (metaphorically, I guess) what Clinton did to requests to close the embassy in Libya.


There were countless other examples of Republican navel-gazing yesterday. Even conservatives like Erick Erickson, a consummate hack, conceded that the hearing was “a spectacle” and “a waste of time because everything about it is politicized and nothing is going to happen.” The truth, though, is that what happened on the Hill yesterday is not new. After all, this is the same Republican congress that has tried 56 times to repeal Obamacare knowing they don’t have the veto-proof majority they need.

The Benghazi committee, like so many Congressional hearings, was an exhibition in grandstanding. The House, which is controlled by conservatives, exists mostly as a vehicle for Republicans to promote their brands. They have a political agenda to be sure, but it’s not aimed at accomplishing anything legislatively, just as the Benghazi hearing wasn’t designed to produce new information.

Yesterday was a stage. The Republicans who attacked Hillary Clinton were performing – none of it was necessary as a public service. As Clinton pointed out, an independent review board has already released 29 recommendations for improving security for American diplomats overseas, the culmination of several thorough investigations. We already know what happened in Benghazi. But this wasn’t about Benghazi.


It was about Republicans who wanted to score points (and votes) by attacking Hillary Clinton before a national audience.

Highlights from the 11-hour hearing:
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Democrats May Quit Benghazi Committee

Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at silling@salon.com.

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