President Obama's most fevered critics have been waiting for a national "aha" moment since he was first inaugurated more than 50 months ago. Coming off an electoral landslide, Obama was instantly greeted by a mob-like movement on the far right that denounced him as a socialist and a communist. Excited conservatives quickly reached for Nazi rhetoric and imagery in an effort to convey the dark threat the Democrat posed to the country.
Amplified by Fox News and a well-funded right-wing media industry, the "grassroots" revolt was portrayed as a sweeping rebuke of Obama. But in truth, the raging critics occupied the loud fringes, a fact confirmed by Obama's easy re-election.
Still, professional detractors have held out hope that at some point Americans would come to see Obama as they see Obama; as a monster of historic proportions who's committed to stripping citizens of their liberties and getting them addicted to government dependencies, like a drug dealer.
This week's House Oversight Committee hearing into the Sept. 11 terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was supposed to trigger that "aha" event. It was supposed to be The Day Americans Turned On Obama. Indeed, Obama wouldn't be able finish out his second term because the Benghazi revelations were going to be so damaging, Fox New's Mike Huckabee told his radio listeners. And Sean Hannity warned ominously that, "This is going to be a really defining, important week in the Obama presidency, and it's not going to be a good week."
But none of that happened at the hearing. Instead of being the kind of "explosive" Watergate-style hearing that Fox talkers prayed for, Wednesday's hearing sagged under the weight of stubborn facts, and didn't even reach the level of Whitewater hearings, which under Bill Clinton established the modern-day mark for pointlessly partisan "scandal" hearings.
Not that it matters to the media players who produced the Benghazi hearings, though. Conservatives continue their Groundhog Day charade, reassuring themselves that the hearing was a hit and that scandal "bombshells" exploded on Capitol Hill. (They did not.)
The larger, common sense question that lingers though is, why? Why keep pounding a story so far into the ground that most news consumers can't even make sense of the convoluted allegations anymore?
I think the explanation for the durability is that Benghazi serves as an all-purpose platform that allows the most hardened critics to project their anti-Obama madness. It allows them to spin their ugliest fantasies about the president and to depict him as a heartless traitor who chose to let Americans die at the hands of Islamic terrorists. It's a way to condemn Obama for having a "reflexive impulse to blame, rather than defend, America."
For the last eight months, Benghazi has served as a convenient vessel to ferry around the right wing's Capt. Ahab-like obsession. Most often docked at Fox News, which has referenced "Benghazi" thousands and thousands and thousands of times since last September, the terror attack represents a way to feed that sinister fixation about the president being a Manchurian Candidate who let Americans die in Benghazi and "sacrificed American lives for politics."
Benghazi mania is driven by a dark obsession with Obama that's built upon the assumption that he's capable of the very worst and incapable of anything good or decent. That the president of the United States does not deserve to sit in the Oval Office because his loyalties (not to mention his origins) are in doubt. Which is supposedly why he would abandon Americans to die in Benghazi.
Note some of the rhetoric this week, which portrayed Obama as unfit and un-American. From Fox News' Todd Starnes:
"If Obama won't protect four Americans under attack in Benghazi, what makes you think he'll protect the rest of us?"
And from talk show host Mark Levin [emphasis added]:
It's just unbelievable that our country didn't come to the defense of these men. It makes me sick to my stomach. It's not a natural reaction if you're a red-blooded American. My God, send in the military! But no, we didn't... What the hell kind of commander in chief is that? Let me go further, what kind of an American is that?
What kind of American is Obama if he won't protect citizens under attack?
As Marc Ambinder at The Week noted, if you follow the premise of the Republican's vast conspiracy that suggests the White House deliberately let people die in Benghazi because they feared the political fallout of a terror attack, you'd have to assume Obama "is simply and utterly evil." Ambinder is right, and they do believe it.
Which is to say, Benghazi as it's debated and presented today (and will be for months to come), isn't just about Benghazi, or the four Americans who died in the attack or the dozens more injured. It's about Obama and a blinding, uncontrollable anger that fuels his most dedicated foes, and their relentless, futile search for the American "aha" moment.
Two decades ago, radical Republicans waged an eight-year campaign against Bill Clinton because Republicans were convinced he was a crook and a scoundrel. We're now past the halfway mark of another eight-year Republican war against a Democratic president. This one is fueled by the belief the president, as a person, is utterly beneath contempt. (It's one reason Fox talkers so easily, and so crassly, invoke Obama's children when launching political attacks.)
The Benghazi narrative gives the fevered swamp denizens a ready-made framework to project their fears and hatred onto Obama and to do it in the context of "news." And that's why, despite this week's hearing which didn't advance the story forward one inch, the Benghazi narrative isn't going away anytime soon.
Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters for America blog.