It's still permissible to use the word "pissant," isn't it? Merriam-Webster defines it as someone or something without significance or obsolete. That's the very word that came to mind while watching congressional Republicans attempt to skewer Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the attacks in Libya last September that left four Americans dead, including the ambassador.
The knives were out for last week's hearings, and the GOP had been salivating for weeks, wanting a chance to place blame for attacks on the American embassy in Benghazi. Fox News bloviators like Charles Krauthammer accused Clinton of developing a case of "Benghazi flu" to avoid testifying, which turned out to be a blood clot on her brain that required hospitalization. But there would be no apologies coming from the right, as gnat after insignificant gnat tried to make their bones trashing the former first lady.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, reacting as if he'd just smoked a bowl of bluegrass, said, "Had I been president at the time ... I would have relieved you of your duties," undoubtedly drawing guffaws from White House staffers watching on television. The very thought of a Rand Paul presidency set the tone for the ridiculous spectacle to follow. Permanent grouch John McCain, still in recovery over his loss to Obama in the 2008 presidential race, stated that Clinton's answers "are not satisfactory to me," as if that still actually mattered. McCain continued, "The American people deserve answers, and they certainly don't deserve false answers," implying that Mrs. Clinton was lying. Senator Ron Johnson claimed that Clinton's emotional and tearful testimony about greeting the returning caskets of the four slain Americans was merely "theatrics" to avoid his tough questions. Johnson told CNN that Democrats were playing "election politics" with the Clinton hearings, tone-deaf to his own party's desperate political posturing.
Predictably, satire turned to farce when the circus moved to the House of Representatives. Congressman Jeff Duncan of South Carolina shook his finger at Mrs. Clinton while accusing her of allowing the embassy in Benghazi to become "a death trap" and inquiring, "What does responsibility mean to you, Madam Secretary?" This coming from a former auctioneer who'd never been 50 miles away from Greenville until his election to the House. The clear motive of these inquisitions was not to find facts concerning the Libya attack but to issue grandstanding attacks on the secretary of state. At the hearing's end, there was no resolution over what actually took place in Benghazi, and Secretary Clinton made the political opposition look like an assortment of opportunists and fools.
This is exactly the image the Republican Party was trying to change at its post-mortem winter meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, last week. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana again rebuked the GOP for being "the stupid party" and urged future candidates to avoid saying things that were "offensive and bizarre." Jindal said, "It's time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults."
Governor Bobby must believe that we forgot about the time he gave his party's rebuttal to the State of the Union address by coming on television speaking to the American public like he was the newly elected mayor of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
To underscore the image of the "new" GOP, one of the invited and honored keynote speakers was Newt Gingrich. The meeting devolved into another Obama hate-fest, although they paid particular care not to call him a Marxist this time. The GOP-ers believe their principles are solid and that it's just a matter of changing their messaging that will return them to relevancy. They believe that by softening their rhetoric on women's issues, they'll retain more of the female vote. Perhaps not trying to parse the definition of "rape" might be a good start.
Oddly, the emerging Sunday spokesman for Republican "values" seems to be the unrepentant loser Paul Ryan, who attempted to use the term "forcible rape" in his own anti-abortion legislation. In fact, the GOP began the 2013 legislative term by introducing dual bills to defund Planned Parenthood, a "personhood" amendment that would outlaw certain forms of contraception, and offering harsh anti-abortion measures that mirror similar efforts in states with Republican-controlled legislatures. It's tough to do a lot of soul-searching when you have no soul.
The reelection of Reince Priebus as chairman of the Republican National Committee does nothing to dissuade the "stupid party" label. After Rick Snyder's attempts to declare martial law in Michigan and Rick Scott's voter-suppression measures that backfired in Florida, Priebus actually said, "Our principles are more conducive to minorities than the Democrats'." Fellow in-denial Republicans echoed the refrain that their problems arise from an inability to "explain their values" and the ordinary citizens' incapacity to "understand our conservative principles." The meeting then unanimously approved a resolution to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding on a voice vote.
A Republican lawmaker in New Mexico just introduced a new bill that would require the victim of a rape who was impregnated from her ordeal to carry the child to term in order to preserve the fetus as potential evidence at a criminal trial. This begs the question: Who benefits from such a "trial" — the victim or the rapist? House speaker John Boehner made a speech to the conservative Ripon Society and said, "We're expecting to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party." Austerity champion Paul Ryan further opined, "If we had a [Hillary] Clinton presidency, I think we would have fixed this fiscal mess by now."
Democrats need do no more than stand back and watch in awe, since the current Tea Party-enthralled Republican Party will most likely collapse of its own accord. With enemies like this, who needs friends?
Randy Haspel writes the "Born-Again Hippies" blog, where a version of the column first appeared.