Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shocker! (Least Revealing Revelation Ever)

Oh, c'mon, Mother Jones:
As Mother Jones revealed last week, Groundswell, the hush-hush right-wing strategy group partly led by Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, wanted to hype the Benghazi tragedy into a full-fledged scandal for the Obama administration, as part of its "30 front war" on the president and progressives. A secret audio tape of one of Groundswell's weekly meetings shows that prominent members of the group pressed House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chair of the House oversight committee, to expand the Benghazi investigation and make this supposed scandal a top-priority for congressional Republicans. This recording indicates Groundswell's mission extends beyond message coordination to scandal-stoking.
Really? You're telling me that the same right-wing kooks who were publicly hyping Benghazi! and publicly urging Boehner and Issa to "make this supposed scandal a top-priority" were...also doing the same thing when the TV cameras weren't on!

And furthermore: they threatened that House Republicans "go hard on Benghazi or risk losing financial and grassroots support."

Never mind that Boehner and Issa haven't actually gone along with the specific demand (a select committee on Benghazi!). Never mind that Issa and House Republicans have been perfectly happy to hype Benghazi, with our without this supposed pressure. Never mind that there's nothing here about "Groundswell" control of the resources they supposedly were threatening to withhold.

This is about as big a non-revelation, and non-story, as I've ever seen. Check that...actually, I do think there's something of a story here. But it's not a scandal story; it's a story about, as far as I can see, perfectly legitimate activity by a portion, and hardly from the evidence a central portion, of the Republican party network. That's interesting! At least a little. But there's nothing nefarious going on here, and more to the point, nothing particularly secret about any of this.


  1. But the initial revelation ("As Mother Jones revealed last week...") is pretty significant, no? Wife of a sitting Supreme Court Justice engaging in gutter-level scandalmongering? I mean, it's not earth-shattering, but it's not nothing.

    And this article appears to be just a reddit-style "bump" to keep the initial revelation in front of readers' eyes...

    1. I don't think the revelation last week was anything; we already know these folks are up to this stuff! That they coordinate actively, instead of passively...no surprise, and not much of a thing, really.

      As far as the Thomas question: I urge people to tread very carefully here. I don't think that Justice Thomas has been especially careful about maintaining an image of impartial justice (for whatever that's worth), but it's very important IMO not to freeze out spouses from being involved in public life.

    2. The question of "freezing out" spouses (of judges and other officials who need to maintain "non-partisan" reputations) from being able to participate in partisan activity is one of those many idealistic questions we so often come to in studying and analyzing human political/social behavior. On one hand there's the ideal of giving each citizen full rights to participate. On the other hand, there have been too many cases of official persons, in all lands and times, using every available means (including spouses, children and marriages) to consolidate a personal political power in an illegal or unethical way. And far too often the view that commentators take depends on whether they see their interests being promoted or harmed by any particular case.

      So yes, Mrs. Thomas and all judges wives should have the freedom to be a political activist, just like anyone else. Yet all other citizens should also have the right to be concerned about, to ask questions about, and to reach conclusions on, the exact nature, circumstances, and consequences of the spouse's political activism.

      In short, Ginni can do what she wants, but the audience Mother Jones wants to reach can also do what they want to make her and her husband political targets/"lightening rods" in their activism. And hopefully in a democratic system, this will all feed into the great cultural/intellectual washing-machine of the next election cycle and get sorted out there.

    3. It's important as well to identify people who are paid by these non-profits to lobby for policies that benefit specific corporate interests. If Ms. Thomas makes a significant amount of money, say several hundred thousand dollars over a decade, from a coalition of corporate sponsors, it would be hard to say that it doesn't affect her husband.

      It matters because there are specific mechanisms available for spouses to keep their finances separate. Theresa Heintz, for example, maintains a wall between her fortune and her husband John Kerry. The first President Bush also placed his finances in a blind trust prior to accepting the vice presidency candidacy.

      The least that MoJo could do is promote the idea that Ms. Thomas needs to use these tools to prevent her husband's reputation from being tainted.

  2. Well, it's interesting to see that Boehner resisted.

    I remember when I first heard of Frank Gaffney, an old Richard Perle associate. In 1987 he resigned from the Defense Department because Reagan had the audacity to sign an arms-control treaty with the Soviets, the INF Treaty. What were his responsibilities at Defense, you ask? Nuclear Forces and Arms Control.

  3. It's useful to get documentation of what's going on even if we already broadly know it. The Pentagon Papers didn't really tell people who opposed the Vietnam War anything they didn't (broadly) already know, but they filled in details and came straight from the horse's mouth. That's what this story is about: the lede isn't the scandal-mongering per se, but the leak of an audio tape of a particular meeting, and the particular things that the participants said about their discussions with Boehner and so forth.


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