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Imaginary 'scandals' don't need distractions

Associated Press

The "White House rocked by scandals" narrative clearly didn't work out well for President Obama's critics. The Benghazi conspiracy theories proved baseless; the IRS story quickly evaporated (even if most of the political world ignored the exculpatory details); and the AP subpoenas and NSA surveillance programs turned out to be policy disputes -- on which many Republicans agreed with the administration's position. As Jon Chait recently put it, "The entire scandal narrative was an illusion."

But a funny thing happened after Scandal Mania 2013 ended: the right decided to pretend the narrative remained intact.

National Review ran a fairly long piece this week, arguing, "The truth about Benghazi, the Associated Press/James Rosen monitoring, the IRS corruption, the NSA octopus, and Fast and Furious is still not exactly known." The headline read, "Obama's Watergates." (Yes, the president doesn't have a Watergate; he has multiple Watergates.)

Yesterday, Marc Thiessen's latest Washington Postcolumn insisted that the IRS's "political targeting of [Obama's] conservative critics" -- which, let's remember, didn't actually happen -- is "undermining our nation's security" and "has exposed Americans to greater danger."

And on Fox News, Steve Doocy has cooked up a conspiracy theory that addresses his conspiracy theories.

"Remember last week all the talk was about 'phony scandals' and all that other stuff and the NSA and the IRS and suddenly we get this alert that something could be happening in the Arab world somewhere toward western interests, and it is pro-administration. We've heard this a million times. [...]

"Just that they would reveal such detail. They burned a source and a method, and that's the problem. They could still say be careful if you're in these areas. But to be so specific to make it look like the administration is working overtime, look at these fantastic avenues of intel, that is troubling."

So, for Doocy, the White House leaked sensitive national-security information to distract attention from scandals that don't actually exist.

It's awfully difficult to take this line of argument seriously.

Several news organizations learned of the administration intercepting al Qaeda communications -- we do not yet know the source of the leaks -- which led to the closings of many U.S. diplomatic outposts in the Middle East and North Africa. For some on the right, this was part of an elaborate White House scheme.

But that really doesn't make any sense. For one thing, Scandal Mania is over, and there's no incentive for the administration to turn attention away from stories that the political world has largely given up on. For another, the administration doesn't gain anything by leaking news of the intercepted messages.

Wait, the right responds, the White House now gets to implicitly argue, "NSA surveillance is really important so these programs shouldn't be shut down." But the administration doesn't need to say that -- efforts to stop NSA surveillance aren't going anywhere, at least not now, and the programs were going to continue anyway.

There are no Watergates for the right to play with here.