“The most dangerous untruths are truths slightly distorted.”
-G.C. Lichtenberg, 18th Century scientist and satirist
Word has come, from a piece in New York Magazine, that former President George W. Bush has begun to paint, “making portraits of dogs and arid Texas landscapes” to occupy his time in retirement. It’s a good hobby for a 66 year old man to take up, especially one who used to represent a party that makes it its business to hold up a picture of what they want Americans to see, instead of what is actually there.
As Bill Clinton said last week in Las Vegas, in aping Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, over his sudden teleportation (not turn, because it was too sudden a shift to be congruous) from “severely conservative” to the political center, “Who ya gonna believe – me or your own lyin’ eyes?”
Whether, as Clinton suggested, moderate Mitt is back, or whether he just rejiggered his campaign because of the influence of of his family, as some have suggested, it seems rather apparent that the Republican party as a whole will continue to carry the hard right’s message, even as Mitt distances himself from it.
For the former Massachusetts governor, re-framing is second nature. For the GOP, re-framing is what they do when they want to distort a perceived chink in an opponent’s armor or shield their nominee from his own weaknesses.
Take the latest talking points on the tragedy in Benghazi, Libya, that occurred on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on U.S. soil. Time after time, Republicans on the Sunday talk shows referred to the Libyan assault as “9/11,” making no effort to distinguish it from that tragic day in 2001. In fact, by using 9/11 here, they are insinuating that this 9/11 is an extension of that 9/11, and that killing Osama bin Laden – and other al-Qaeda leaders – did nothing to weaken the terrorist group.
Indeed, part of their mantra this week is “al-Qaeda is alive and well,” as if they are responding to Joe Biden’s declaration that all Americans need to know about this presidency is that “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) went so far as to say that the Obama administration was only telling us that the terrorists were on the ropes, and that they were purposely deceiving us. “The truth is we’re not safer,” Graham told CBS’ Bob Schieffer, on Face the Nation, Sunday. “Al Qaeda is alive. Bin Laden may be dead. Al Qaeda is alive and they’re counter-attacking throughout the entire region.”
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) put both talking points together well Monday morning, in a panel discussion with MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing. “I was in the top secret briefing with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton,” he said, “ten days, or so, after the 9/11 attacks.” He said he thought “they were trying to hide something.”
“It flies in the face of what the President says, when he says, ‘al-Qaeda is on the run,'” Barrasso added. “Al-Qaeda is alive and well, and attacking the United States.”
There are several things wrong with the GOP’s distorted portrait of this administration’s handling of Benghazi, and its aftermath. First, at most it was mishandled politically, but not to hide the determination of terrorists to attack U.S. targets. That has never been denied. Second, you cannot paint a picture of intelligence breakdowns with catastrophic results without including the bombing of the U.S. marine barracks and the U.S. embassy in Beirut under Ronald Reagan, and, of course, the actual 9/11 attacks under President-turned-portraitist George W. Bush.
Finally, a consulate, or an embassy, is not a military installation. It is a diplomatic mission, and stationing a unit of heavily armored personnel and vehicles there changes its diplomatic nature. You cannot say, “The United States is your friend,” with any authenticity, if there’s a tank behind your gate.
Joe Biden’s misspoken response to Martha Raddatz at last week’s debate, that “we weren’t told they wanted more security,” only hours after there was sworn testimony to Congress that help was asked for and denied, has given more fuel to the conspiracy nuts. But if President Obama and Joe Biden continue to maintain the implausible explanation, as David Axelrod said on Fox News Sunday, that in Biden’s debate answer, “what he was talking about was what he and the president knew, because these matters were being handled at the State Department,” there will be no mitigation in the rising furor, and it could get worse. That would be bad for a president going into his final debate, October 22, on foreign policy.
It’s not that President Obama has to go so far as to reestablish his war and diplomatic credentials to convince independents, but he does have to close the chink in his armor, and blunt Romney’s jabs over Libya. The best way to do that may be to issue as complete a preliminary report as possible as to what really happened last month in Benghazi, before the election. Don’t just promise one you’ll deliver after the election – issue one now. Redactions will be okay; Americans expect that there are things about foreign involvements that need to remain secret. But if you keep rolling out denials, you allow the Republicans to frame their own picture of what happened.
A preliminary report before the final debate will not only destroy the Romney campaign’s frame of purposeful deception – it will also render the Congressional witch hunt, disguised as oversight, moot.
Otherwise, Joe might have to revive one of his big lines from the 2008 campaign, applying to the GOP what he said of then Republican primary candidate, Rudy Giuliani, “There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence — a noun, a verb, and 9/11.”