Friday, June 29, 2012
What’s particularly sad about the fishing expedition that Darrell Issa and House Republicans have been conducting in an effort to turn Fast and Furious into a Watergate-type scandal is the opportunity cost. By focusing exclusively on scandals, the House inevitably does less of the real, tough oversight that they should be doing.
As many have noted (see for example Mann and Ornstein’s The Broken Branch), Congressional oversight slumped in the 1990s and then collapsed during the stretch of unified Republican control during the George W. Bush years. The problem is that instead of the traditional oversight, two types of partisanship have emerged: Members of Congress stopped taking their institutional role seriously when the White House was in their party’s hands, and when it’s not they focused on discovering huge scandals instead of just making sure that executive branch departments and agencies were doing what they’re supposed to do.
Granted, in its origins, at least the Fast and Furious investigation isn’t as oversight-free as, say, Whitewater. But we’ve long ago left substance behind. Even in the event that Issa can manage to find something that looks bad for Attorney General Eric Holder to people outside of Rush Limbaugh’s audience (and, no, comparing him to the parent-murdering Menendez brothers isn’t helping), it’s hard to see what the investigation at this point has to do with making the Justice Department better run.
Which is, in fact, the point of Congressional oversight: not to protect or attack the current occupant of the Oval Office, but to make sure that the executive branch is doing a good job carrying out policy. And there’s about as much evidence that Darrell Issa is interested in that as there is that Eric Holder has done anything worth investigating.