Ru­ing the Beng­hazi ruse

Democrats may suf­fer a bal­lot-box beat down af­ter the select com­mit­tee’s work

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Jef­frey H. Birn­baum

Repub­li­cans have rea­son to be­lieve that a lie by the White House helped guar­an­tee Pres­i­dent Obama’s re-elec­tion. Now, the truth could pro­duce big gains for the GOP in the midterms.

The lie was about the deadly at­tack on U.S. fa­cil­i­ties in Beng­hazi. Ev­i­dence is mount­ing that pres­i­den­tial aides man­u­fac­tured the idea that a video fo­mented the vi­o­lence as a way to al­low the pres­i­dent to es­cape re­spon­si­bil­ity just weeks be­fore vot­ers went to the polls.

Democrats could rue the ruse this year. It ap­pears that a new, select com­mit­tee in the House will con­tinue to ex­pose the facts, and vot­ers will hear them. If the cover-up re­ally is worse than the crime, Democrats stand to lose in November.

The dan­ger is that the GOP could botch the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Facts are what mat­ters, not over­heated rhetoric or par­ti­san hys­te­ria. So far, Repub­li­cans have de­liv­ered too many empty as­ser­tions. The new panel will have to make the still-murky Beng­hazi sit­u­a­tion clear or fail to de­liver on an ob­vi­ous op­por­tu­nity.

Pres­i­dent Obama and his party are vul­ner­a­ble. The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s for­eign pol­icy has been feck­less in Ukraine, the Mid­dle East and vir­tu­ally ev­ery­where else. The eco­nomic re­cov­ery re­mains mea­ger. Oba­macare is a prob­lem, and the pres­i­dent’s poll rat­ings prob­a­bly haven’t hit bot­tom yet.

Scan­dal, though, is what could be the White House’s down­fall. Lois Lerner may well have tar­geted con­ser­va­tive groups from her perch at the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion may have over­stepped its bounds on many fronts, from spy­ing on Amer­i­cans to re­fus­ing to fol­low the law on de­por­ta­tions.

Ev­ery­one knows that the pres­i­dent is adept at giv­ing a great speech. He and his peo­ple, though, have shown lit­tle pa­tience or ap­ti­tude for man­age­ment. Ne­glect­ing the me­chan­ics of govern­ment is a fun­da­men­tal er­ror. Poor ex­e­cu­tion has and will con­tinue to hurt the White House and the Demo­cratic Party.

On Beng­hazi, Democrats have done well by mock­ing some of the un­proven ac­cu­sa­tions by their crit­ics. They have calmed their base vot­ers by shrug­ging off the con­tro­versy as a just an­other con­spir­acy the­ory.

Still, if Repub­li­cans can show that the White House put up Su­san Rice when serv­ing as United Na­tions am­bas­sador to per­pe­trate a lie on the Sun­day talk shows, they have an is­sue with legs. Re­mem­ber also that the pres­i­dent him­self talked about the video as Beng­hazi’s cause in late Septem­ber of 2012, just weeks be­fore his re-elec­tion. The video was a good ex­cuse if true, but a ter­ri­ble sub­terfuge if he knew the story was false.

Plenty of think­ing peo­ple doubted the story al­most from the start. Com­men­ta­tors, al­beit mostly on the po­lit­i­cal right, spoke out early and of­ten. They ques­tioned how any­one could be­lieve what Mrs. Rice and Mr. Obama were say­ing. The nar­ra­tive about the in­sult­ing video strained credulity.

Democrats are now say­ing that there was con­fu­sion early in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. OK. What we also know is that the con­fu­sion abated fairly quickly. Why didn’t the of­fi­cial story from the White House change with the new in­for­ma­tion? Could the de­lay have been caused by con­cern over the pend­ing elec­tion? That’s an ex­pla­na­tion that makes sense to me.

Mak­ing sense and prov­ing a point are dif­fer­ent things, though. Repub­li­cans on the select com­mit­tee will have to un­der­stand the distinc­tion. They must fo­cus on facts, not loud ac­cu­sa­tions.

Rush­ing to the cam­eras is a Capi­tol Hill ad­dic­tion. Repub­li­cans will have to kick the habit and show some re­straint for a change.

Cer­tainly, Repub­li­can vot­ers are stirred when they hear the word Beng­hazi. More than one news chan­nel and web­site have at­tracted lots of eye­balls by play­ing the Beng­hazi card.

But the next cards that are dealt on the sub­ject will have to con­tain new and re­veal­ing in­for­ma­tion. There will have to be, for ex­am­ple, more emails like the re­cently dis­closed note from White House aide Ben Rhodes, which pressed the case for the video even though in­tel­li­gence agen­cies hadn’t made such a con­nec­tion.

Repub­li­cans need to be care­ful not to over­sell what they have. “Just the facts” should be their motto. If they stick to that, they could win back some of the elec­tions they lost the last time as a re­sult of a lie. Jef­frey H. Birn­baum is a Wash­ing­ton Times colum­nist, a Fox News con­trib­u­tor and pres­i­dent of BGR Pub­lic Re­la­tions.

ILLUSTRATION BY LI­NAS GARSYS/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

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