Since it became clear the House would establish a select committee on Benghazi, Republicans have been accused of fundraising off the tragedy (the NRCC was guilty of this, though that’s quite different than if a member of the select committee had done so). Even assuming we agree this was a bad idea, it still shouldn’t overshadow the actual Benghazi scandal. But I’m about to argue it’s less evil than unseemly — and even here, I’m not sure why we all agree this is unseemly.
First, let’s examine the conventional wisdom that says you shouldn’t politicize a tragedy. I think there are several things involved here. The first is the assumption that politics is dirty and cheap, which, of course, it can be. But it can also be noble and purpose-driven, which is why I think the real criteria should be about veracity and motive.
What is the nobility of politics if it’s not about righting a wrong, or exposing a wrongdoing? And how can this be done without launching a campaign? And how can that be done without money? One man’s unseemly witch-hunt is another man’s purpose-driven cause to expose the truth.
In my estimation, one big factor, in terms of appropriateness, has much to do with timing. In the immediate wake of a tragedy, your first thought shouldn’t be about politics, but about the victims. What is more, for a time, the victims and the public are in a state of shock, and are thus vulnerable to emotional manipulation. So trying to pass an anti-gun law five minutes after a tragic shooting is problematic not only because it immediately turns to politics, but also because it’s exploitive. The goal is to pass a law based on the emotional zeitgeist — which might not have passed in a more sober, less emotional, moment.
That, of course, is not the case with Benghazi. We are going on two years, and it now belongs to the ages. If the GOP decides that it wants to make uncovering what went on there — as well as the potential cover-up — a primary objective, is that not a legitimate project? Barack Obama arguably became president based on his opposition to the Iraq War. Was he exploiting the people who died for the liberation of Iraq, or was he taking a legitimate political stance on one of the defining questions of our time? Possibly, the answer is both.
What if Obama legitimately wanted to make sure Americans never again entered into such a quagmire? What if Republicans want to ensure another American ambassador is never again dragged through the streets — and that the American public gets to learn what really happened? Is that wrong?
Of course, raising money is different than merely politicizing something; money is presumably bad, so raising money makes the sin worse. But again, here we have the problem of money being tantamount to speech. And there’s also the problem that what we are suggesting politicians do contradicts much of what we do in real life. If your cousin dies of cancer, and you start raising money for cancer research — a sort of “campaign” — are you honoring your cousin, or exploiting her memory? I think it has to do with motive and veracity. Assuming she really did die of cancer, and the money really is going for a cure, then I would suggest that what you did is noble.
If you want to raise money to fight poverty, are you exploiting the poor? If you want to raise money to improve education, are you doing it on the backs of uneducated kids? It sort of depends, doesn’t it? If you’re a con artist or someone seeking personal aggrandizement, that’s entirely different than if you are sincerely interested in changing things. Again, this comes back to how we view politics and politicians — how cynical we are about them.
There is also some hypocrisy here. When you accuse someone of “fundraising off Benghazi,” aren’t you, by virtue of raising a stink, now politicizing the politicization of a tragedy? And aren’t I now — by opining on this issue for a publication that might make money if you click on the ads — likewise exploiting this? And now, I suppose, by virtue of reading this, you’re in on it, too. Where does it end?
At the end of the day, there is a very good reason why Republicans shouldn’t raise money off of Benghazi, and that is that it is bad politics. For whatever reason, we have decided it is a bad thing — that the optics are bad, or that it creates the impression the select committee is tainted — and that is, in and of itself, enough reason not to do this. The irony, of course, is that raising money on Benghazi is actually more honest and direct — less phony — than putting forth the appearances that one is above such things. We are all phonies.