This is Rather Adult of You John

I’ll be blunt.  I’m no fan of the Cap Times’ John Nichols.

Being part of the 2010 John­son for Sen­ate Cam­paign sure didn’t help my “fan­dom” since dur­ing the cam­paign, those of us in the Comms shop used him as a barom­e­ter to how well we were doing.  The more insane John got in his nearly daily mis­sives in which he was either attack­ing us or beat­i­fy­ing for­mer Sen. Russ Fein­gold, the bet­ter we knew we had to be doing out there.

Clearly, Feingold’s loss to Ron sure didn’t help Nichols’ san­ity.  Since then — ampli­fied by the Madi­son union protests — Nichols has used his writ­ing assign­ments at the Cap Times (in either his columns or edi­to­ri­als) and at the Neo-Communist mag­a­zine “The Nation (Much of the staff there still doesn’t believe that Alger Hiss worked for the Sovi­ets, even after the KGB released their files on him) to go after John­son every chance he can get.

After all, Ron com­mit­ted the crime of defeat­ing his buddy.  Nichols only has to try to return the favor if that rumored 2016 return and re-match metastasizes…

The Sen­ate Beng­hazi Hear­ing and the Hillary “What Dif­fer­ence Does it Make?” moment is no dif­fer­ent.  Nichols lead the parade — and in fact became the arche­type for much of the MSM defense of then-Sec. of State Clin­ton — against Sen. Johnson.

John­son was so inept, so ill-informed, that Clin­ton finally pushed back with a response so impas­sioned that it shut John­son up and cre­ated a national sen­sa­tion. Video of John­son inter­rupt­ing Clin­ton again and again — and of her cor­rect­ing him with the line “Well, no, it’s the fact” — revealed the senator’s incom­pe­tence. And it went viral.”

So now the White House’s story on Beng­hazi is blow­ing up around them.  It looks more and more like Sen. John­son was indeed onto some­thing when he was ques­tion­ing Clin­ton and she was stonewalling.  The House Over­sight Com­mit­tee is hav­ing whistle­blow­ers from within the State Depart­ment tes­tify today and Nichols has to do a lit­tle back­track­ing it would seem.

When Clin­ton appeared a few months ago before the Sen­ate For­eign Rela­tions Com­mit­tee, Wis­con­sin Sen. Ron John­son called into ques­tion her account of the State Department’s response. The “heated exchange” between John­son and Clin­ton drew a lot of cov­er­age, even on Com­edy Cen­tral, where Stephen Col­bert sug­gested, rather indel­i­cately, that John­son was outmatched.

John­son took a lot of crit­i­cism for his approach. And he took even more after he sug­gested that, when Clin­ton spoke with emo­tion in her voice about the deaths of Amer­i­cans at the embassy, she was engag­ing in “the­atrics.” John­son even­tu­ally acknowl­edged that “I prob­a­bly spec­u­lated and I shouldn’t have” about the secretary’s response. And The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Chris Cil­lizza wrote that the Wis­con­sin sen­a­tor had “the worst week in Washington.”

I thought Johnson’s approach was inept and that he seemed unpre­pared, and I wrote as much. The sen­a­tor coun­tered that he had to be aggres­sive because he had only five min­utes to raise what he saw as “a valid point” about “a fail­ure of leadership.”

I know that in these divi­sive times, we don’t often admit to recon­sid­er­ing our assess­ments of those we dis­agree with. But the renewal of the wran­gling over what hap­pened in Libya offers an oppor­tu­nity to do that.

John­son and I share lit­tle com­mon ground now, and I doubt that we ever will. I still think that he could have han­dled the exchange with Clin­ton more ably. But I don’t mind say­ing — as I did in a radio inter­view the other day — that I was far too harsh with the senator.

Here’s why: It is not nec­es­sary to agree with Johnson’s point, or with how he advanced it, to respect that mem­bers of Con­gress should — on issues that they believe to be of great con­se­quence — demand answers from mem­bers of the Cab­i­net and from White House aides. That’s not always easy in a city where the exec­u­tive branch holds so many of the cards. And the process does not nec­es­sar­ily play out grace­fully. Crit­ics will grum­ble about shows of par­ti­san­ship or ide­o­log­i­cal rigidity.

But at the most fun­da­men­tal level, the point of a sys­tem of checks and bal­ances is not the com­fort­able back-and-forth between famil­iar insid­ers. It is the clash that occurs when a mem­ber of the leg­isla­tive branch asks a mem­ber of the exec­u­tive branch dif­fi­cult ques­tions — ques­tions that the indi­vid­ual in the wit­ness chair does not want to answer. That’s what Ron John­son did when he con­fronted Hillary Clinton.

If his­tory proves Johnson’s skep­ti­cism right, he’ll get marks for his aggressiveness.

If his­tory proves him wrong, he’ll take more hits.

That’s about as close to a full apol­ogy as I think we might ever see from Nichols.

No word yet if Hell’s frozen over.

Be Socia­ble, Share!