Death, Teapot Dome, and Benghazi, Cuba

TeapotAccording to Public Policy Polling (pdf), 74% of Republicans think that the Benghazi scandal is worse than Watergate. But I wonder: do these people even know what Watergate was about? That scandal has come to be a blanket term for a whole lot of presidential malfeasance. The Watergate break-in was just the loose thread that once pulled unraveled the whole shirt. But we can’t know what these Republicans think about Watergate because they weren’t asked. They were, however, asked if Benghazi was worse than Iran Contra and only 70% thought it was. And even more interesting, 74% think Benghazi is worse than the Teapot Dome scandal.

(Note: the worst thing about the Benghazi “scandal” is that it has forced me to learn to spell it! Look people: I have a hard enough time keeping the spelling of all the really useful words in my mind. There’s only so much space. I blame the Republicans.)

What are we to make of these numbers? I think it’s pretty simple: Republicans don’t like Obama. Because let’s face it, I doubt that 5% of Republicans have even heard of Teapot Dome and 1% know what it was. I suspect if you asked Republicans if Benghazi was worse than Judas betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, they would say, “Yes!” I even know their argument: only one person died in Jerusalem whereas four people died in Benghazi! Okay, maybe they wouldn’t say that because most of them are Christians, but it does make as much sense as the argument, “No one died as a result of Watergate!” (Interestingly, the whole Benghazi “scandal” has been about what the White House said about Benghazi after the attack: the controversy is the “talking points.” No on died as a result of the talking points either, but that isn’t mentioned.)

If you think I am overstating the ignorance of the Republicans, just check out another part of the poll. PPP asked the “worse than Watergate” respondents where Benghazi was. Of them, 39% didn’t know. Here’s what they said:

  • 10% Egypt (Close!)
  • 9% Iran (Only 1,500 miles off!)
  • 6% Cuba (6,000 miles!)
  • 5% Syria (1,000 miles)
  • 4% Iraq (1,000 miles)
  • 1% North Korea (5,600 miles!)
  • 1% Liberia (2,600 miles, but it does sound the same)
  • 4% Didn’t know (Good answer!)

(I got the distances from this great tool: Distance From To. Check it out!)

I think the people who answered Egypt can be forgiven: it is close by and we have a similar relationship with that country. Similarly, those who thought it was Liberia: they got the first three letters right! But the rest are all, “Pick and enemy, any enemy!” It’s just silly and entirely typical of the conservative “good versus evil” mentality. They don’t need to differentiate between enemies; just like Justice Potter Stewart, they know ’em when they see ’em.

Beside the fact that Republicans don’t like Obama, this poll shows one other thing. Benghazi is a scandal for Republicans, only because they’ve been told it’s a scandal. By and large, they don’t even know what the scandal is. But it would be even bigger if they only knew that no one died in the Teapot Dome scandal either.

H/T: Eric Alterman

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

7 thoughts on “Death, Teapot Dome, and Benghazi, Cuba

  1. It’s also brand loyalty. The Republican brand protects America from all the diabolical forces who want to kill us. According to that brand identification, Democrats are appeasers who would rather sell out allies and make cowardly deals with the enemy than stand and fight like real men.

    The fact that Kissinger/Reagan/both Bushes sold out their share of allies and made cowardly deals with quite a few enemies doesn’t register. Nor does the fact that Democratic presidents have been at least as bloodthirsty as Republicans. It’s a brand. It goes back to the "liberals spit on soldiers and lost us Vietnam" myth, even further back to right-wing claims that all New Dealers were Communist traitors in disguise.

    On a side note, I used to be snarky about Americans not knowing any geography. But then again I love maps, so I’m better than most. Other people love cars, and they can fix things I can’t. Plus now that I’ve met a few non-Americans, most of them don’t know any geography outside their home region either. If you tell someone who isn’t American you’re from Oregon , you have to answer their quizzled expression with "it’s by California, but north and not warm."

  2. @JMF – I have nothing to add about the branding; that’s exactly it.

    I found a great game for American state locations:

    [url=]Know Your States[/url]

    Try it out. It’s fun!

    I used to think that people didn’t know where countries are because of our educational system. There is doubtless something to that. But just as important is that Americans get so little international news. That’s how I know where most things are. The fact that 39% of Republicans (who apparently think it is a big deal) don’t know where Benghazi is, well, that’s a bit of a concern.

  3. HA! I got 48/50 perfect (it’s hard to put those inland states exactly where they belong.) The only great teacher I had in junior high was one Gordon Vallaincourt, the social studies guy. He was in his ’70s, and decided NOT to teach social studies. He put a transparent overhead on the wall the first day, featuring blanks of the 50 states filled with 50 numbers. We were supposed to write down which number correlated with which state. Everybody flunked. And we did it again.

    Vallaincourt repeated that test every day, until everybody, even the dumbest kids, got 100%. (And he did NOT tolerate bullying, and you did NOT fuck with Mr. Vallaincourt.) Then, the day after everyone finally got 100% on the states, we saw an outline of the US with 50 dots representing cities. After everyone nailed that, 50 waterways. By the end we were drawing maps of the country freehand. ("The tricky part is the Eastern states," he’d say. "My dog can do the Western ones.")

    I think he was probably on the verge of retiring, so he just didn’t have any interest in the stupid social-studies textbook. (They are horrible; I was spared mine thanks to Mr. V., but I saw my kid brothers’, and they’re useless.) Instead, he rammed into our heads something that would stick, and it has. He never belittled anyone for failing; he just waited until they did better. The kids got excited about helping each other learn, so everyone could get 100% and we could move on to the next map.

    It wasn’t "The Corn Is Green," it didn’t lift anyone out of poverty in a rotten neighborhood. And I’ve had ggod teachers since. But nobody matches Valliancourt.

    After half a year in "Social Studies," the class became "Exploring Oregon." The same ritual, with counties, cities, rivers. Only this time we had camping trips! The final wasn’t drawing a freehand map of Oregon, but independently researching some piece of Oregon history. (This for eight-graders, from a poor school!) Everyone dutifully hit the encyclopedias and looked up details about Lewis and Clark or the Oregon Trail.

    After they were turned in, Vallaincourt handed out copies of one research paper by one student. It was a report on bridges in Portland and when they were built and why that student liked them. "This is better than anything anyone else did," Vallaincourt said. "You all worked hard, but this is in the writer’s own voice. It sounds like him. That’s more important than trying to impress your teacher."

    I can’t believe I’m ranting about a teacher I had when I was fucking 13. But I can nail every state 30 years later, and not because I’m clever. That’s something. Plus, Vallaincourt stood up to the bullies while teaching them besides. That’s something more.

    Anyhoo, Republicans, Benghazi. It is rather pathetic that they just think "foreigners, out to get us except the ones we’re told are allies, Romney would have saved us and Obama is a weak-suck sellout." There’s a difference between Libya and Iraq, or Egypt, or anywhere else. You’re right that we get no international news. Hell, we get very little national news.

    To redeem this rant, I’ll say that our media are bad enough — but that our educational system is worse. Not in terms of failing to produce test results, I’m no expert on that. But in terms of engendering curiosity. When you read a story and you don’t understand the background (say, a story about some foreign country), what do you do? You look it up. It’s hard to find perfectly accurate material on the Web and we’re all too busy to dig into the library archives, but one can get a basic sense of stuff that isn’t covered in the US press.

    Great teachers give young people the gift of wanting to learn what’s more, what’s next? That curiosity is hugely lacking in this country, from conservatives to many liberals. Our system makes learning a chore and a rote duty instead of a delight. And this is not the way it should be . . .

  4. Just delete that last bit.

    Sorry to spew all over your blog. There’s really no place for people to write letters anymore, long expositions where they work out how they think. Nobody reads e-mails. I’ve been using this site as a way to puzzle through stuff in my head, and that’s disrespectful to the serious media criticism you’re doing. Which is valuable and important.

    I apologize again. Good luck with your future efforts, and I’ll definitely check in (without making annoying comments) to see a sane take on Beltway stupidity; you’re better at doing it in fewer words than just about anyone around. Ciao, and Diety (ies?) bless — JMF

  5. @JMF – You are always saying that. There’s nothing wrong with what you wrote. What I like about your teacher is that he’s using the mastery technique of education. (It may have some other name.) It is very important in math. If you get a C in intro algebra, you aren’t going to get an A in intermediate algebra. The stuff builds on itself. I don’t see the point of learning a subject if you aren’t going to master it. You don’t need to be a genius at it, but it does no good to go onto more advanced topics when you are still struggling with the basics.

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