Hillary Clinton won't go down this way: The Benghazi farce was just exposed -- but the wingnut fever won't break

Clinton's far from a flawless politician. But she does her homework -- and made her interrogators look like clowns

Published October 23, 2015 12:00PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Even knowing that Thursday’s Benghazi select committee hearing would be a pageant for suckers, I still abused my psyche by watching about five hours of it. Maybe it was some driving commitment to my job. Maybe my parents didn’t hug me enough as a child. Either way, I came away even more convinced – if that is even possible – that the whole enterprise is a farce beyond parody.

Over at Bloomberg, Jonathan Bernstein has a theory that the entire purpose of this hearing was to provide content to conservative news sites. He could be right. The right-wing media perpetual rage machine always needs to be fed. It’s not clear to me, even after reading some of the conservative roundups online, what any right-wing journalists thinks the Republicans on the committee actually accomplished, or were even trying to accomplish. But Breitbart and the Daily Caller will get plenty of clicks, so good for them.

I’m open to the possibility that the hearing was largely about the 2016 Congressional elections. The idea that whatever Hillary Clinton did in Benghazi is something over which we should all be outraged is deeply ingrained in the gassy bog that is the right-wing hive mind. The Republicans on this panel are all running for re-election in a year. They want to be able to tell the implacable wingnuts who vote for them that they fought harder to take the evil Clinton down than anyone has fought for the Republic since George Washington rowed across the Delaware. The 200 or so of their colleagues who applied to be on the committee can say the same thing.

If I’m correct, then the Republican Party just used up millions of taxpayer dollars for a day-long congressional re-election commercial. Personally, I’d rather they throw that money into more security for our embassies around the world, especially in war zones like Libya, but that’s me.

Of course they also gave Hillary Clinton a taxpayer-funded re-election commercial. Clinton on the stump is an often awkward campaigner who struggles to speak off the cuff and connect with all but the most diehard of her fans. She does much better in settings where she has to study and prepare and show off her intellectual chops and steely resolve. She got to do that for 11 hours on Thursday and remained cool and composed the entire time. Her campaign staff must have sore hands after all the high-fiving.

It wasn’t supposed to go this way. As with so much about the Clintons, conservatives always think that there is just one piece of information they haven’t found yet that, once revealed, will bring down the entire edifice that the couple has built up over all the decades they have been in the public eye. Republicans just have to ask the right question, again and again and again and again.

There were lots of examples of this in the hearing. Take Rep. Jim Jordan, proud member of the feral House Freedom Caucus, who spent some of his question time on the question of where all of Clinton’s emails had gotten to. He kept demanding Clinton reveal the “search terms” her lawyers had used to scour her emails and pull out all the one related to Benghazi to turn over to the committee. Now, the idea that Hillary Clinton would know the exact terms that a computer technician somewhere plugged into a script to query a database is utterly laughable. But Jordan kept at it, for what purpose only he knows. Release the long-form Boolean operators, Madam Secretary!

It’s always fun to watch the conservatives’ fantasy Hillary run straight into reality, where she is simply a moderately talented politician and bureaucratic operator who has been testifying to various congressional committees for 20 years, not an evil mastermind who can be broken like Jack Nicholson on the stand in “A Few Good Men.” Where the majority of Americans are more worried about making this month’s rent than who said what about a terrorist attack in Libya three years ago.

It would be a lot more fun if it wasn’t all so damn embarrassing. There is plenty to criticize about the wisdom of our policy of intervening in Libya that Hillary Clinton advocated for and helped oversee. But Republicans can’t really do that, because in 2011 they were screaming that the intervention didn’t go far enough. They were upset that President Obama let our NATO allies take the lead, that we weren’t sending in our troops, that we were “leading from behind.” So they are left with parsing emails and statements made in a fog of confusion when riots were erupting across North Africa. They are left with a fantasy Hillary, electric with worry over ruining Obama’s re-election chances, callous and stalking the halls of her Georgetown mansion while Americans were dying in a firefight half a world away. They are left with ephemera and ghosts.

It is no way to run a Congress, or a country. But there is no reason to think this steaming dumpster fire of a hearing on Thursday will break the Republicans’ fever. There is always something else they can find to bring down Hillary Clinton, if they just keep looking.

Highlights from the 11-hour hearing:
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