... fill in the blanks: Teapot Dome, Watergate, Iran Contra, Lewinsky... Benghazi?
Political scandals are so very juicy, aren't they? Sure, we deplore the morality or criminality of it all but let's be frank, when it comes to PRESIDENTIAL scandals -- they're just the best! Soap opera on steroids. Betrayal, lust, greed and, often, just plain stupidity -- AND at the highest levels of government! It's the majors. Some would say it's also good for business -- just ask the folks at CNN. There's something satisfying when the oh-so high-and-mighty are caught with their pants down or just sagging with payoff cash.
At the heart of all White House scandals is one key ingredient: humiliation or if you prefer, SHAME... of somebody other than yourself. Isn't that the driver behind so many reality TV shows? The dramatic payoff is watching someone being dumped. On Celebrity Apprentice, the cameras actually follow the humiliated loser as he/she is driven out of town. This kind of entertainment is a subset of escapism we could call Shame-TV.
Which brings us back to presidential scandals. You may have noticed that every time one erupts, it's compared in heinousness to the last really big one. "This is bigger than Watergate," said a politician recently about Benghazi. During the Billy Sol Estes blather of the Johnson presidency, Richard Nixon called it, "The biggest national scandal since Teapot Dome." He could have compared it to the 1875 Whisky Ring villainy of the Grant administration. But that happened well before radio and TV so there's been no repeatable sound-bites to keep it alive.
To put things in context, here's a look at the major presidential scandals of the modern era:
Teapot Dome, 1922: The secret leasing of federal oil reserves by no less than President Harding's secretary of the Interior. The result: Harding dies and the perp goes to jail.
Sherman Adams, 1958: President Eisenhower's chief of staff accepts gifts from someone doing business with the government. Bribery is the charge. Adams is forced to resign.
Watergate, 1972-73: A "second-rate burglary" by operatives of the Nixon administration which leads to the president's resignation and prison time for several of his aides.
Iran-Contra, 1985-86: Also referred to as 'guns-for-hostages,' when senior Reagan administration officials secretly sell military goods to Iran in exchange for hostage release and funding for the Nicaraguan Contras. Fourteen people are indicted including the secretary of defense.
L'Affair Lewsinsky, 1998: Clinton is caught with his pants down. An impeachment trial is held.
The Plame Matter, 2007: Valerie Plame, a covert CIA officer, is outed in retaliation for her husband's New York Times op-ed piece embarrassing the George W. Bush administration. National security is compromised and the vice president's chief of staff is sent to prison.
Which brings us to today and the Benghazi matter, the one that's "... bigger than Watergate." Where does it fit into our national Hall of Shame? Is it bribery? Nobody is alleging that. Criminal? No. Salacious and embarrassing? No stained dresses to report. A massive cover-up? Not so much.
If we can sort through all the political posturing, the charge seems to be that during an election cycle, the incumbent administration smoothed out their talking points because, they claim, it reflected the consensus of what they knew at the time.
So unless there are further revelations, what we've got here is: TALKING POINTS
MANIPULATED DURING POLITICAL CAMPAIGN! Shocking. It's Casablanca when Capt. Renault says, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!" as the croupier hands him his winnings.
The Washington Post reports that the back-and-forth mails at the time that are public make clear there was no White House cover-up regarding Benghazi. So Benghazi is basically about hapless spin.
What is interesting about this latest executive kerfuffle-cum-scandal is it comes during the president's SECOND TERM. With the exception of Teapot Dome -- where the president died in his first term -- all of our big humiliations happen during second terms. Probably because the president isn't up for re-election and tries actual governance without political considerations which often leads to administration hubris which never plays well in our highly partisan universe.
Then there's the lame-duck factor with an emphasis on lame. The party out of power is empowered by diminishing executive clout. Add rejuvenating mid-terms in sight and a presidential election after that.
While Benghazi doesn't look like the magic sword to slay this administration's dragon, we do have the IRS and AP allegations beginning to ripen. Much more potential here. Summer doldrums are coming on. It's already too hot to go outside in many places, broadcast-TV is doing re-runs. So if there's another West Wing scandal to follow, this could be one very juicy summer