At the heart of the escalating showdown between House Republicans and the Obama administration over the failed gun sting Operation Fast and Furious lies this question, says Peter Grier at The Christian Science Monitor: Will House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) dig up "an Obama administration scandal as profound as Watergate, as some in the GOP believe? Or is it an election-oriented fishing expedition," as Democrats argue? Here are three reasons the Republicans may have a case for dropping the W-bomb, and three reasons they may just be engaging in over-the-top hyperbole:
How Fast and Furious is like Watergate:
1. Nixon and Obama both asserted executive privilege
"The parallels are eerie" between the Fast and Furious scandal and Watergate, right down to the dates, says Mary Claire Kendall at The Washington Times. Issa's committee voted to censure Attorney General Eric Holder almost exactly 40 years after the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Watergate Hotel that led to Richard Nixon's resignation. More damningly, Obama chose that anniversary to shield subpoenaed Fast and Furious documents behind a claim of executive privilege — just as Nixon tried (and failed) to do with his Oval Office audio recordings. That ties Obama to the scandal, and the question asked of Nixon now applies to him: "What is the White House hiding?" I'd say "it's definitely time to dust off a copy of All the President's Men."
2. There might be a "Nixonian" cover-up
"The cover-up that's going on with the Fast and Furious" is "almost Nixonian, if not absolutely Nixonian," Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) told CBS News on June 24. In fact, this scandal may be worse. "I mean, with Watergate, you had a second-rate burglary," but thanks to guns tagged in the Fast and Furious sting, "a former marine and a border patrol agent by the name of Brian Terry lost his life." Terry's murder is a common conservative argument that Obama has become "Nixon Mark II," only worse. Actually, says Tim Stanley at Britain's The Telegraph, it was Nixon's attempts to quash the Watergate investigation "that destroyed Tricky Dick — not the original crime" of ordering a break-in. Obama's making the same mistake.
3. It took a while for the press to follow each scandal
People remember intrepid Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein breaking open the Watergate case, but they don't remember how long it took other newspapers to pay any attention to what seemed like a small story. Fast and Furious has followed a similar trajectory, much to the annoyance of right-wing bloggers, Fox News, and Republican politicians, saysStanley. Well, "be patient, conservatives. It took nearly eight months for the Watergate break-in to become a national news story. But when it finally did, it toppled a president."
How it isn't at all like Watergate:
1. No laws were broken with Fast and Furious
Nobody disputes that ordering a break-in at the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate hotel was a crime, but what laws were broken in Fast and Furious? asks Katherine Eban at Fortune. A six-month investigation by the magazine has discovered that, contrary to the "distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies" in the common telling of the Fast and Furious tragedy, the ATF agents running the operation "never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could." The problem is that much of what they were trying to prevent — "straw" buyers purchasing and giving guns to Mexican cartels — is effectively legal in Arizona and under federal law.
2. We know who the whistleblowers are in this case
It took 31 years to learn that the main leaker in the Watergate case — Woodward and Bernstein's famous "deep throat" — was FBI Associate Director Mark Felt. By contrast, from the beginning of the Fast and Furious scandal everybody knew that the whistleblowers in the case were ATF agents John Dodson, Olindo "Lee" Casa, and Lawrence Alt. The problem, says Eban, is that their story about ATF officials, especially their supervisor, Dave Voth, purposefully allowing guns to "walk" to Mexico doesn't appear to be true. What the paper (and email) trail does show is that Dodson, especially, hated Voth and has no problem misrepresenting his words.
3. Conservatives have called other Obama scandals Watergate
It should come as no surprise that Republicans are trying to turn Fast and Furious into "Obama's Watergate," says Media Matters. They've been calling every minor Obama-related Washington kerfuffle Watergate since at least 2010. Remember the Joe Sestak "bribe" in May 2010 or the arrest of a former Obama campaign staffer in January? How about Solyndra, or Obama's birth certificate, or his recent immigration-enforcement order? All of these forgettable flaps were potential "Watergates" for the fevered right-wing commentariat. Maybe they should re-read the fable about the boy who cried wolf.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How the South's ugly racial history is haunting ObamaCare
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The real story behind Deliver Us From Evil
- If Democrats abandon immigration reform after Tuesday's likely loss, they will turn 2016 into a debacle
- What if Leo Strauss was right?
- Stop making fun of philosophy and read some philosophy
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Feast your eyes on this beautiful linguistic family tree
- Beware of Splenda: The backlash against artificial sugars
Subscribe to the Week