Quick: someone call a chiropractor for California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa. He’s overreached so far his arm may separate from his shoulder. Even some key figures in his party are suggesting he needs an adjustment. F-a-s-t.
Issa, a self-made millionaire who became famous -- or infamous, depending on one’s perspective -- when his $1.6 million donation helped propel the successful 2003 effort to recall California’s inept Gov. Grey Davis, is the increasingly high-profile, hyper-partisan Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He’s known for declaring he’ll hold hearings on something that’ll prove wrong-doing on the part of the White House and bust the town wide open. His hearings usually are a bust.
His latest escapade is a case of quintessential political self-destruction. Angry over the White House line in the scandal over the IRS targeting conservative groups, Issa called White House Press Secretary Jay Carney a “paid liar.” Forget for a minute that all politicians -- including Issa -- have press secretaries who give information their bosses give them to the press. Issa’s harsh language immediately made him seem more like fill-in host for conservative talker Mark Levin rather than a serious Congressional investigator.
Significantly, Democrats seemed almost gleefully delighted to respond, while Republicans began discreetly began scurrying away from him.
Former White House advisor David Plouffe on Twitter noted all the dropped charges and unproven suspicions from Issa’s past: “Strong words from Mr. Grand Theft Auto and suspected arsonist/insurance swindler. And loose ethically today.” Former White House Press secretary Robert Gibbs called Issa’s charge “stunning” and said Americans “want to see the IRS cleaned up, but they will understand quickly that Darrell Issa is doing nothing more than politicizing this event.”
Republican Joe Scarborough said Issa’s language made him look bad. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham on Fox said there was “no evidence” the White House directed the IRS probes and added: “Let’s not make it personal. Jay Carney is not the issue here. He’s the spokesman for the White House.” Arizona Sen. John McCain on CBS said he didn’t like the word liar: “I think that we should let these investigations take their course, let the facts come out.”
The National Journal’s Ron Fournier, who often irks both parties, wrote: “Meet the best friend of a controversy-plagued Democratic White House: a demagogic Republican. In a reminder of how the GOP overreached during the Clinton-era sex scandal, Issa doesn’t seem capable of letting damning facts speak for themselves.”
Meanwhile, George W. Bush’s former speechwriter David Frum announced he was ending his blog at The Daily Beast due to some family tragedies and offered some parting key points for conservative reformers. One of them should be read by Issa:
“Now Republicans are working themselves into a frenzy that will paralyze Congress for the next 18 months at least, and could well lead to an impeachment crisis,” Frum wrote. “As it becomes clear that the IRS story is an agency scandal, not a White House scandal, conservative reformers need to be ready to do their part to apply the brakes and turn the steering wheel. There will be a Republican president again someday, and that president will need American political institutions to work. Republicans also lose as those institutions degenerate.”
Issa isn’t acting as if he’s stewarding a committee in a great institution seeking to learn the truth. He’s acting like a hyper-partisan with investigative powers who has already judged and desperately seeks something on the other party. He has not proven a thing yet. And, in the process, he’s destroying his own credibility - and the seriousness of questions raised about the IRS.
Which should worry a lot of Republicans. And please the White House.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org