Why scandals must be investigated (Hint: Not to score political points)

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Yesterday on Bloggingheads, Bill Scher, my liberal sparring partner, argued that pursuing “scandal politics” doesn’t make sense for the Republicans. In a column at The Week today, he sounds a similar note, reminding us that Iran-Contra didn’t keep George H.W. Bush from winning what amounted to Reagan’s third term, and that it was Newt Gingrich — not Bill Clinton — who was forced out of office as a result of the Lewinsky scandal.

It’s all true. In fact, the track records is worse than that. Scher notes that, “Every party on the outside of the White House envisions replicating Watergate,” and that may be true. But to wish for another Watergate is to wish for a Pyrrhic victory.

Yes, Democrats destroyed Richard Nixon and shook America’s faith in government.  But for all that effort, they ended up controlling the White House for just four of the next eighteen years.

To be sure, there were many other consequences, and there were numerous reasons why Republicans continuing winning the White House, despite Nixon’s resignation. But at the end of the day, we’re still left with this: Even the model scenario for ousting a sitting president yielded, at best, mixed results for the party out of power.

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But that’s not the point. This isn’t about politics, it’s about the rule of law.

It’s about doing what’s right. It’s about holding powerful people accountable. It’s about preserving liberty. It’s about sending a message to the next administration that we’re watching — that abuses of power won’t be tolerated.

So yes, Scher has a point. Republicans shouldn’t think of this as smart politics. Adopting his attitude will prevent them from pursing things for political gain. That shouldn’t be the motive, any way. And Republicans should realize there are dangers to relying on scandals to help them electorally. As National Review correctly warned, “scandal is not an agenda.” But Republicans shouldn’t look the other way, and neither should the media.

And keep in mind, people in power aren’t going to willingly hold themselves accountable. We have an adversarial system that pits ambition against ambition. This is a feature, not a bug. We need the other political parties, the other branches of government, and yes, the fourth estate, to keep an eye on the powerful.

Scandals should be thoroughly investigated … for all the right reasons.

Matt K. Lewis