With the election a little more than a year away, political scientists across the land are busy tabulating their data and feeding it into their proprietary formulae – all with the goal of successfully predicting the outcome.
Pundits are doing the same, and the data points are pretty much the same: economic growth, unemployment, approval numbers and right direction/wrong way questions.
But there is another variable that has yet to make an appearance: Scandal.
Scandal – or the hint of one – is a powerful instrument that can derail even the strongest election campaign. George H.W. Bush was hit with a special prosecutor on baseless charges in October 1992 and it arguably cost him the race. Similarly, the last-minute revelation that George W. Bush had a drunken driving conviction likely cost him the popular vote (remember the freelance Dem operative wearing that goofy hat? Wonder where he is now).
Fast and Furious is the most serious scandal in my lifetime – arguably since the 1920s. Watergate, Iran-Contra, Whitewater – none of these had body counts in the triple digits. None of these involved the deaths of United States law-enforcement officials.
The mainstream press is trying mightily to downplay it. It was “a sting operation gone wrong,” is the current story. As many blogs have pointed out, once one knows the specifics, the real question is how it could have “gone right.”
Other bloggers have done a fantastic job of covering the details, but what they lack is an understanding of the realistic political consequences. That’s where we come in.
The first thing to understand is that this is not a “normal” scandal. That is to say, the press will not be hyping it and reporting on it as a lead story. The narrative of an embattled administration struggling to get it message out simply will not emerge because the mainstream press will not buy into it. The scandal involves guns, and guns are bad to these people. Anything done to limit their ownership – even if it involves arming drug gangs and terrorists – is okay by them. Indeed, the audacity of the plan and its breathtaking scope cause right-thinking people to draw back. It is too fantastic, too much of a conspiracist pipe dream to be true. So it must be fake.
That is why there will be no fawning coverage of its victims, no Hollywood dramatization with Sean Penn as a brave truth-teller.
We saw this before with Ruby Ridge and Waco, but this is different. It is different because – as a bipartisan gathering of Arizona sheriffs pointed out – every time someone is killed with a gun, the Dept. of Justice has to wonder: “Was that one of ours?”
Thus is it is not enough for the administration to turtle up and ignore Congressional subpoenas; it is not enough for AG Eric Holder to stonewall Congress by claiming their queries will compromise a face-saving but otherwise useless Inspector General investigation.
This is because of the distributed nature of the U.S. justice system and because the guns are so widely distributed.
Each time a Fast and Furious gun is found at a crime scene, the local prosecutors can demand to know who sold it. If it is used to kill a local cop, they will certainly do so.
In addition, the state attorney general can open his own investigation – or file suit in federal court. Unlike the Valerie Plame distraction, these cases carry real consequences for the participants. The participants in ATF, FBI and DEA face felony convictions and they have every incentive to cooperate.
In short, this is a hydra, sprouting heads all over the place.
Then there is the international angle. A friend of mine was chatting with me about the president’s reelection prospects the other day and I mentioned Fast and Furious in passing – specifically how little press coverage it has gotten.
“Oh, it’s getting coverage,” she said, “just not in the English language.” You see, she is fluent in Spanish, and often listens to Spanish-language radio. It is a huge story in Mexico, and while Mark Steyn may wonder why no one in the New York Times news room cares about 200 dead Mexicans, the Mexicans themselves are quite bothered by it.
They are amazed at how their supposed benefactor is so callous about the wholesale slaughter of fellow Hispanics – and how disrespectfully he has treated the Mexican government.
The lily-white liberal punditocracy knows nothing about this, but it’s out there. It is all fine and dandy for the White House to strategize about carrying this state or that one, but if Hispanic voters in Nevada, New Mexico and California stay home, Obama will be crushed utterly. They may not want to vote Republican, but they certainly will not support a man who lied to them about amnesty and then nonchalantly implemented an operation that slaughtered hundreds of people just like them.