In Washington, every so often, a politician will stray from the standard spin and utter an accidental truth. On Fox News the other night, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy did so in spectacular fashion, momentarily forgetting that the GOP’s endless Benghazi probe (a probe that’s now longer in duration than the 1970s Watergate probe) is supposed to be spun as a search for truth, justice and the American way. Instead, he let slip a burst of candor. And how refreshing it was to hear it.
Sean Hannity was bugging McCarthy to come up with a House Republican governing achievement. Admittedly, that’s a difficult task, given the party’s aversion to governance. McCarthy finally came up with an answer, wrapped in an advertisement for his own Speaker candidacy:
“What you’re going to see is a conservative speaker, that’s takes a conservative Congress, that puts a conservative strategy to fight and win. And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known that any of that happened had we not fought to make that happen.”
We’ve known all along, of course, that this special committee was created not to unearth some previously unearthed truth about Benghazi. After all, the seven previous committees had held dozens of hearings and plumbed 25,000 pages of documents. And the GOP-controlled House Intelligence Committee has already concluded, after its own two-year probe, that there’s “no evidence” of improper administration behavior. No, this eighth committee was created simply to ensnare candidate Hillary in a new web of suspicion.
McCarthy says so himself. The Republicans “put together” a new committee to dispel the notion that Hillary “was unbeatable,” and, after spending a few million bucks of taxpayers’ money, “her numbers are dropping.” They may not have unearthed anything new about the terrorist attack that killed four Americans (no surprise there) - but hey, they’ve “fought” to get Hillary’s poll numbers down.
To which Fox-head Sean Hannity dutifully said, “That’s something good. I give you credit for that.”
I get why McCarthy felt the need to commit candor. In his bid to succeed John Boehner, he has to convince the right-wing Republicans who drove Boehner out that he’s as unhinged and nakedly partisan as they are. Hence, his spontaneous acknowledgement that the select committee is, in truth, nothing more than an election tool - in his words, “a strategy to fight and win.”
In politics, unvarnished honesty is so rare that it glows in the memory. Consider what happened in Pennsylvania three years ago, when state House Republican leader Mike Turzai spoke to a roomful of fellow partisans. Instead of insisting that the GOP’s voter ID law was crafted to prevent voter fraud - the party’s standard lie - Turzai lapsed into honesty mode and predicted that the law, by making voting tougher for minorities, “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state.” (Turzai never got to test his candid theory. Prior to the election, the courts put the law in limbo.)
Nobody thinks Hillary is a great candidate. The email flap has been a drag on her candidacy, and she hasn’t handled it well. But Kevin McCarthy has truly (truthfully) given her a gift - and Wednesday night, on TV, she duly unwrapped it: “When I hear a statement like that, which demonstrates unequivocally that this was always meant to be a partisan, political exercise, I feel that it does a great disservice.”
Hillary is slated to testify in front of the committee on Oct. 22, and now, thanks to McCarthy, she has the high ground. As always, the Clintons are lucky to have such hapless enemies.
Oh, one other thing: Is “untrustable” even a word? Not in my 2,000-page Webster’s Dictionary. It’s bad enough that the Republicans make stuff up. Now they’re apparently doing it with words.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at email@example.com