Friday, June 29, 2012

Oversight vs. Scandal-Mongering

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.


  1. Reminds me of Ginsberg and Shefter, Politics By Other Means.

  2. To paraphrase Emily Litella: "What's all this I hear about 'the stench of unified Republican control'?! What? Oh..... never mind."

  3. Fast and Furious was a huge screw-up -- each and every relevant document should be made public. As long as the Executive branch is being less than totally transparent, Darrel Issa is doing the people's work.

    1. As long as the Executive branch is being less than totally transparent......

      Wow, if that's the standard, Issa's committee is going to be busy for the rest of time.

    2. I've never quite understood this. In doing a sting, Mexican drug gangs got some guns, right? We could even say they got a lot of guns.
      In the absence of F&F, is the argument that Mexican drug gangs would have been any less armed? I don't think so.
      Now, the coverup. That could be bad. And, I think Holder may have been holding back more documents than maybe he should have. Naturally, I have no way of knowing this, but the count of withheld documents seems quite high. On the other hand, those released emails from this week seem REALLY exculpatory; bureaucracies do things that the heads are unaware of all the time. And I have absolutely no trouble believing that this is a partisan fishing expedition.

      So, right now, I can't say it looks like anything more than partisan poltiics. In that light, it's totally ignorable.

    3. What sting? Read the Fortune article. The Mexican drug gangs got the guns because of lax Arizona laws not because the guns were walked. There was a sting but it wasn't part of the Fast and Furious case.

  4. Why has no one pointed out the obvious about Fast and Furious - the agent killed by Mexican drug dealers would have been killed regardless of Fast and Furious. Surely, there are plenty of guns entering Mexico from many sources especially private dealers in the US.

  5. Not sure, bro. I work in the guvmint, and the fear of there even being a subcommittee hearing about my [agency], attended by like two low-ranking House members, is enough to get folks in line. The irrationality stuff hurts, chiefly b/c you never know what's going to trigger a reaction. But the *potential* for oversight is still an effective check on at least some misbehavior.


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