By using the House Oversight Committee as a platform for Romney 2012, Rep. Darrell Issa is helping to cover up the executive branch's bad behavior.
Today's debate in the House Oversight Committee over whether to hold Eric Holder in contempt of Congress is, first and foremost, a campaign season stunt. That's not a statement about the merits of investigating the ATF's now-defunct Fast and Furious program, a boondoggle that certainly deserves official inquiry. But committee chair Darrell Issa—who is, coincidentally, a Republican—has gone well out of his way to showboat for the C-SPAN cameras, publicly insult the Attorney General, and bring things to a head quickly enough that he'd have suitable pretext for holding an unprecedented contempt hearing. Even after Obama asserted executive privilege over the documents Issa's demanding, he steamrolled ahead.
By such naked political maneuvering, Issa has turned the whole Fast and Furious story into one of pure politics. The story on every cable channel and in every major newspaper no longer has anything to do with what the ATF and Justice Department may have actually done; instead, it's all about House Republicans versus the White House. Issa has relegated any actual wrongdoing to the status of a footnote.
That's emblematic of how thoroughly Issa and his committee have abdicated their oversight responsibility under this administration. Because the committee has become, in essence, a Republican campaign platform, it has lost the legitimacy to conduct serious investigations into administration malfeasance. What's worse, it has ignored the Obama administration's most serious wrongdoing, because it happens to be wrongdoing that Republicans support.
An Oversight Committee that was genuinely interested in holding the Obama administration accountable would investigate:
- the NSA's domestic surveillance activities
- the Justice Department's unprecedented war on whistleblowers
- the CIA's collaboration with the NYPD on a domestic spying program targeted at Muslim communities
- the NSC's secret "kill list"
- allegations that the United States is still complicit in torture
- the CIA's "signature" drone strikes
- the DEA's pseudo-military operations in Honduras
- America's secret war in Yemen
- America's secret cyber-war with Iran
- the alleged Secret PATRIOT Act
Many of those stories positively dwarf what we know about the Fast and Furious program. But, of course, a Republican campaign organ would be reluctant to investigate most of them. After all, the Bush administration also engaged in undeclared wars, prisoner mistreatment, domestic surveillance, and so on. What's more, the Republican Party still supports those programs. A hypothetical President Romney would likely extend them even further.
So, ironically, the House Oversight Committee has nearly completely given up on oversight. Instead, by dwelling on short-term partisan advantage, it has become tacitly complicit in executive branch overreach and abuse.
But what did you expect? That's what happens when political parties mobilize all of their functionaries to become round-the-clock campaigners. It's what happens when every government institution becomes a potential platform for the advancement of your party's short-term interests. Checks and balances break down, and what we're left with is a cynical, anti-democratic power struggle between competing interests.