In the summer of 2006, I was cleaning my room as I prepared to move away to college when I came across a copy of U.S. News & World Report from 1997. I picked it up and flipped to the features well.
The magazine is long gone, but I distinctly remember that the article was something of a hit piece against the Clinton administration relating to a farm bill. An assortment of Republican congressmen went on record with typically scathing quotations about sweetheart deals and corruption and, most importantly, hearings. Boy, did they want hearings. To hear them tell it, the Goths were coming to sack us if we as a society failed to schedule the farm hearings. A pang of sadness hit me.
Two years prior, George W. Bush had been reelected to preside over a gloomy, spiteful, scorched nation. The country had gone through a terrorist attack of ontological importance to the American psyche — still fresh in our minds in 2006 — and because of it, we were in two simultaneous wars. One of them was honest but short-sighted, the other an immoral, unethical, illegal waste of lives and money and morale. Neither had a foreseeable end.
The economy was performing poorly and oil was sky-high, and little did we know that they were comparatively good times soon to be washed away by the cleansing power of God and derivatives. The right had not yet had a cicada moment with civil liberties, wherein multitudes of conservatives emerged from the ground and insisted they'd feared tyranny all along. Back then, we just had Republicans.
My sister asked me what I was reading. "The Republicans were mad at Clinton, I guess," I said. For what, she asked. And then I got angry. "For some stupid boring bullshit that nobody died from and nobody went broke from!"
And I never saw the Republican fetish for scandal the same way again. Here I was, in the middle of a desolate political landscape, raw from the worst of the Rove years, and the Republicans of the fertile 90s wanted nothing but blood. The Monica era finally made sense.
People like to speak about the "failure" of the Obama administration, and it's a joke. The mere fact that the past six years have allowed us to forget the series of calamities that preceded his election and the mass disillusionment that paralyzed American politics is a sign, if sustained (but poor) growth doesn't do the trick, of how good we've had it since the days when "with us or against us" applied to dissenters as well as the Axis of Evil.
As we once again allow the titillation of scandal to eclipse any sense of perspective, let's not forget that there was once a convulsing, presidency-threatening case made out of a real estate venture that the Clintons lost money on. Or that Republicans saw fit to collapse the government for a year over the pressing national concern of Bill Clinton's sexual proclivities.
The developments of the past few weeks have been digested endlessly elsewhere, many with my sense of resignation that Republicans out of power are going to try to pin down their opponents with political spats the way dogs are going to hump your houseguests' legs. It is their nature. It's a good thing, I suppose, that the party that consistently shows the ability to dominate the government's agenda, even when they have none, is the one that wants to prevent it from operating. If the Democrats had the power and shamelessness of the Republicans, Dodd-Frank would have been the most carefully-drafted bill of the past five years.
Make no mistake, though, these are fights between partisan elites. Modern American government is a football game, and each side either has the ball or is preventing a score. The supreme irony of these "scandals" is that they are embraced, gleefully, by the same people who disavow the Republican Party when presented with a more banal articulation of the same directionless platform.
These are familiar tactics we've seen for years from a political machine dead-set on ensuring that none of us realize that things may not be going so poorly after all. Deprived of the kind of juicy scandals the Clinton White House seemed intent on providing, the GOP has to settle for the ineptitude of Obama's White House. Pathetic, maybe. Nefarious? In their dreams.