"I think what has evolved in the generation plus since the Watergate hearings in the mid-1970s is sort of an industry of scandal investigation. The press has its ways of looking for us to advance a story day-by-day."In other words, these things seem to take on a life of their own. The investigative machinery drags on, because the opposition party has an interest in hobbling the president. And the media keeps up the drumbeat of coverage, because the public is interested in stories about scandal.
But what made my ears perk up in Fallows's description of this phenomenon, was his use of the term "genuine scandal" in reference to prior investigations such as the Watergate or the Lewinsky matters. If those were genuine scandals, it follows that the present scandals are fake scandals. What that means is that even if there might still be legitimate matters to be investigated in the Benghazi affair, the IRS/Tea Party affair, and the AP affair, there is no indication that any of these matters touch the White House. We are rolling out the investigative machinery, and its associated press coverage, which in the past has always been associated with tearing down a presidency, even though objective observers have no reason to think the president is going to be tainted by these accusations.
The question is, can the machinery of fake scandal be driven far enough so that it gives off the whiff of a real scandal? And will that ultimately hurt the president? The history of the Clinton impeachment trial suggests that a fairly minor scandal can be taken pretty far, but it also shows that if no serious accusations of wrongdoing can be proven against the president, the president will ultimately emerge stronger from the crisis than his accusers. Clinton might have been distracted by the impeachment trial, but it was Newt Gingrich who ended up being forced to resign from office. In the case of the fake Obama scandals, signs are already emerging that public interest in these affairs is much lower than in previous versions, and the president's popularity is still ticking up, not down, despite the latest media frenzy.
All signs therefore show that the machinery of fake scandal is only going to hurt the Republicans in Congress, not President Obama. And yet, partly for the reasons Fallows suggested, and partly because the angry GOP base demands it, that machine will grind forward.