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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.

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