Just weeks after Americans rejected the Republican presidential ticket and its hard-to-buy “Country First” mantra comes this:
“… the President-elect [Obama] should immediately disclose any and all communications his transition team has had …”
So begins the Republican party’s efforts to disable another U.S. President, this one before he even takes office.
Those demands were recently beamed from the office of Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Mike Duncan. In short, he is calling on Obama to “come clean,” when there isn’t even a whiff of scandal on the not-yet-inaugurated President.
There is a scandal of course — Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (a Democrat) was arrested yesterday, accused of trying to sell the Senate seat soon to be vacated by Obama when he moves to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Rather than having offered anything to the disgraced governor, Obama seems to have foiled him at every step. Blagojevich was caught on tape saying that Obama and his transition team are “not willing to give me anything except appreciation. Fuck them.”
“What principles are the RNC upholding by distracting the country from these problems and trying to rub Blagojevich all over the next American President?”
So the Republican National Committee’s insinuations about Obama were discredited before Duncan even made them. Yet it seems eager to create a “gate” to which it can connect Obama (I’m guessing they’ll dub it “Blago-gate”).
If this is a sneak preview of the role Republicans will play as the opposition party, this is bad news for everyone. The country is in the midst of a deep and likely prolonged recession, its soldiers are fighting two wars, reforms are desperately needed in health care, energy policy, and the Justice Department, and the U.S. is still a tempting target for terrorists.
What principles, then, are the RNC upholding by distracting the country from these problems and trying to rub Blagojevich all over the next American President?
Recall the breathless concern feigned by Republicans in 1994 over a failed land deal called Whitewater. The meandering investigation wasted $70 million, and the crime it uncovered was a product of the investigation rather than its target. But the bigger tragedy was that the Clinton administration was diverted from governing in order to appear at legal depositions. No one can know whether this benefitted a band of Saudis who, at the time, were planning a grand attack on the United States. But we do know that it forced the administration to waste enormous amounts of time, energy, and resources defending itself from flimsy charges thrown by fellow Americans.
Looking forward, not all Republicans will jump on board the RNC’s “attack Obama” strategy, if that’s what it develops into. Hopefully, these moderates will hold back because the country just elected the guy and there’s serious work to be done. But they might also remember that such tactics backfired on Bill Clinton’s enemies and helped ensure John McCain’s defeat, too.
They should also remember that when they smear an opponent on flimsy grounds, it shines a light on their own priorities. It shows they prefer an embattled and hamstrung president over a respected, successful Democratic one, that they’d rather have no government at all than one run by their opponents.
Their lawyers may speak about ethical standards and accountability, but what most Americans hear are insecurity and resentment.
Duncan is up for re-election as RNC chair next month, and if he wins America may be treated to another era of phony and expensive “gates.” Before the G.O.P. goes further down that road, its members should ask themselves whether their recent slogan “Country First” was anything more than just that.