That leaves the rest of us with mixed emotions. We want to be outraged — we really do! — because we love our country and we stand ready to be offended if our naive hope that good people do good things regardless of politics turns out to be dashed.
But we also remember the fable about the boy who cried wolf. The moral of the story is that too many false alarms lead everybody in the village to become dangerously unconcerned about the wolf danger.
In this week of scandal, in which the conservative outrage meters have been howling about administration actions (or inactions), those of us who do not get our aerobic exercise by jumping to conclusions are forced to reconsider our cautious reserve.
This reserve is justified by the experience of recent years. During the Clinton administration, those crying wolf were in full throat over the Whitewater scandal, which wasted much time, cost millions of dollars to investigate and left the Clintons sitting pretty.
Likewise the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which was supposed to be about the president lying under oath but was really about sex and dirty laundry. Since then, conservatives have embraced Newt Gingrich and Mark Sanford, apparently because they think the “thou” in “thou shalt not commit adultery” refers only to Democrats. In other words, it was all bunk and crying wolf.
And so it goes. From the moment President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the hate machine was cranked up. This happened with the last occupant of the White House, too, but that was a Model T hate machine compared with the super-duper, industrial-strength lie mixer rolled out for Obama. No other president in memory has had to fend off claims that he was not actually an American — and that was just for starters.
Ever since, conservatives have been trotting out prospective scandals for the rest of us to get infuriated about. Wolf! Wolf! Still, some had passing plausibility. “Operation Fast and Furious” was a crackpot scheme to trace guns to Mexican drug cartels, but it was hard to sell as a scandal because, as you know, guns don’t kill people. The Solyndra scandal involved a big waste of public money, but the real offense seemed to be that the administration was promoting solar power. Oh, the horror.
These scandals took off to the extent that a squadron of concrete balloons takes off. For this, the usual suspects blamed the mainstream media, not the more obvious fact that the people pushing these scandals for their own political advantage had about as much credibility as used-car salesmen on a shabby lot. That’s still the problem.
Of course, Democrats can be as unbelievable as Republicans. But — credit where credit is due — Republicans are the experts. I mention this only to provide the context shadowing one of the questions of the hour: So what are we to make of Benghazi-gate other than ask why scandals in this country must have a “gate” attached?
Again, the crying of wolf from sources like Wolf News — formerly Fox News, but the animal got hungrier — have made it hard to know what to believe. The fog of war lies heavy on this tragedy that killed four Americans, including a beloved ambassador, but so now does the mist of fabricated claims and instant assumptions.
It began and still remains in part an argument about the administration’s careful parsing of words so as to downplay an act of terrorism before an election. My reaction to this is like Capt. Renault in “Casablanca”: I’m shocked. Shocked!
But wretched PR is not an impeachable offense and, despite wild claims to the contrary, it’s far from clear what the president knew and when he knew it. The administration ought to agree to a new independent panel. It’s the only way to shut up the wolf criers. If you have nothing to fear, then fear nothing.
Actually, two other scandals may be more damaging: The first is the IRS targeting Tea Party-movement and other right-wing groups for special scrutiny, a folly that gave paranoia a good name and is now under criminal investigation. Heads need to roll at the IRS.
Likewise at the Justice Department. Someone should be shown the door — or the gate, in this case. Trolling for phone records at the Associated Press? Has the administration gone mad?
That’s the problem with crying wolf. In the fable, the wolf eventually arrived. Regardless of maddening politics, even those who have been put off by false alarms have to stay alert to the threat.
Reg Henry is a columnist with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.