The hearings held by the House Select Committee on Benghazi with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the witness chair for some eleven hours brought to mind another time when Republicans crossed the lines of propriety and civility. It was June 9, 1954, the so-called Army-McCarthy hearing, which became a political spectacle when Republican Senator Joe McCarthy charged the Army had been infiltrated by communists (in fact, the senator was merely angry that the Army refused to bow to his wish to promote one of his aides.) Boston attorney Joseph Welch, who had been hired to represent the Army, deflated the ranting demagoguery of McCarthy during the hearing with a very pointed question: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”
Sadly, the mentality of Republicans on the Benghazi committee was too reminiscent of Joe McCarthy’s style of beating up on witnesses, by abusing the processes of Congress to grandstand and appeal to people who are attracted to bullies and an audience that finds modern witch hunts amusing. There is no question that the contemporary conservative movement curries to the political stone-age knuckle draggers, who have confused ideology with thinking, while embracing hate toward all those who do not share their twisted views. Forcing a witness to testify for eleven hours is outrageous; the fact that witness is a former secretary of state and a declared candidate seeking the office of President of the United States, elevates this event to the level of a public battering. The Republicans on the Benghazi committee had absolutely no sense of decency, and the Democrats could only point out time and again the nature of their political thuggery.
As it turned out Hillary took every blow they threw at her, and said all that needed to be said with a look of disgust on her face. Seven Republicans (three women and four guys, difficult to call them men) against one lady who never lowered herself to their level. They hit below the belt, tried to take shots when she was not looking, with some guys using the equivalent of brass-knuckles and knives while some of the women revealed themselves so out of touch with reality that they looked like fools. For example, there was that unscripted but revealing moment when Congresswoman Martha Roby, who represents the Second Congressional District in Alabama, tried to go after Hillary.
Roby started by noting that Clinton had written in her book, Hard Choices, that she was directing the State Department response the night of September 11, 2012, when the deadly attack on the Benghazi embassy occurred. Roby continued, noting that Hillary had written when she left the office she went home, so Roby wanted to know if she had in her home a SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, to protect any classified information from leaking. Clinton said she did. Roby asked whether Clinton was home alone, and Hillary said she was. Then Roby got weird, asking Clinton if she was alone the whole night. More specifically, the exchange went as follows:
Clinton: “I was alone. Yes.”
Roby: “The whole night?”
Clinton: “Well, yes. The whole night.”
With that, Hillary could not restrain herself from laughing. It was a bizarre question with its obviously sexual innuendo, but Martha Roby either didn’t get it or knew she had stepped in it with a remarkably dumb question, “I don’t know why that’s funny,” Roby said in a huff, looking horrified. “Did you have any in-person briefings? I don’t find it funny at all,” Roby scolded Clinton, who could not stop laughing. “I’m sorry, a little note of levity at 7:15,” Clinton noted, with a twinkle, then adding that she had secure communications and other equipment that “kept me in touch with the State Department at all times.”
Throughout the entire seven-on-one eleven-hour attack, Hillary sidestepped, parried, or simply took hit after hit, making the Republican gang look pathetic. She embarrassed them by allowing them to embarrass themselves, which they did in round after round of questions. Following the marathon hearing, commentators left and right, declared “Hillary won!” This carefully calculated effort to derail Secretary Clinton’s bid to become president had exactly the opposite effect, for she used it to bolster her campaign by showing she can handle seven-to-one with ease. But like Joe McCarthy at the time who—for me anyway—loomed over this hearing, these seven Republicans and their multi-million-dollar investigation, and greatly overpaid staff, are not ready to call it quits. You can be sure they are not going to allow Hillary to get away with beating them fair and square on their own turf.
No one needs a crystal ball to know that these people—given their conspicuous lack of decency on display at this hearing—are busy digging into every word Hillary said to try to show she is a liar, that she made some slip in those eleven hours where she remembered something just a little differently from when she testified on the same subject earlier, or given what she previously said in one of her thousands of emails. This is the way Republicans operate today. They do not play fair. Just look, for example, at the way California Congressman Darrell Issa handled former IRS employee Lois Lerner. After his committee members forced her to appear, and trashed her to her face with false information, she made a very brief and general statement that she was not guilty as charged, and then refused to subject herself to further attacks by invoking the Fifth Amendment, which was her constitutional right. Republicans then proceed to try to criminalize her actions.
For invoking her Fifth Amendment right the Republican House of Representatives held Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress. Some Republicans wanted the Speaker to have her arrested and jailed in the basement of the Capitol. When that did not work, they sent a request to the U.S. Attorney of the District of Columbia, calling on him to criminally prosecute Ms. Lerner. The U.S. Attorney, however, found Ms. Lerner had an absolute constitutional defense in her right to take the Fifth Amendment, and notwithstanding all the Republican “strict constructionists” loose interpretation of the law, no crime had been committed. Republicans are still outraged.
Will the House Republicans, who have been embarrassed, as has the ambitious Trey Gowdy, chairman of the Benghazi committee, find a sense of decency and back off this McCarthyite pursuit of Hillary Clinton? Ask Lois Lerner what she thinks? Republicans may not know how to govern but they do know how to play dirty. It is tragic they insist on exploiting the deaths of American officials serving their country in Benghazi, but the GOP appears too invested to do bring it to an end. So I do not believe this is over with Hillary and the Benghazi committee. Decency is not the Republican approach these days, particularly when they got their clocks cleaned by Hillary Clinton.