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The politics of Fast and Furious

Here’s how Politico writers Jake Sherman and Reid Epstein reported the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s vote to hold Eric Holder in contempt: “The Fast and Furious investigation has finally handed House Republicans a prize they’ve long sought: a legal smackdown of the Obama administration.”

Can anyone imagine this lead sentence if the House had found the Attorney General in a Republican administration, Alberto Gonzalez for example, in contempt? I can’t. Instead, Politico would no doubt be focusing on the obstruction (real or imagined) that led to the contempt vote, and very possibly touting the House’s action as a victory for truth, justice, and the American way.

But it gets worse. Sherman and Epstein, no doubt using White House talking points, attempt to spin the contempt vote as a victory for Obama. On what basis? Because “House Republicans’ hot pursuit of Holder doesn’t exactly line up with Mitt Romney’s message, which he wants to keep focused on the economy.” Moreover, “Obama’s campaign wants to tie Romney to what he considers an extreme Republican majority.”

Let’s take these talking points one at a time. First, it is a fallacy to suppose that the House’s decision to hold Eric Holder in contempt will somehow detract from Mitt Romney’s efforts to focus his message on the economy. Romney’s message will focus on whatever the candidate wants to focus on. He need not talk about Fast and Furious at all, unless asked. If asked, he can answer quickly and move on, if his campaign decides that’s the best way to proceed.

Meanwhile, if voters learn that the administration is trying to conceal information about a criminally stupid gun walking program that resulted in the deaths of an American agent, among others, they may or may not deem this significant. If they do, Obama will be hurt. If they don’t, it won’t affect their view of Romney.

If anything, though, the bad economy will make Americans more inclined to be angry about Fast and Furious and the administration’s attempt to cover up the scandal. If American were happier about the economic situation, they would be more willing to cut the president some slack on issues that have little impact on their daily well-being. Since they are unhappy, they may well tend to view Fast and Furious as a manifestation of the administration’s incompetence and dishonesty.

As for the effort to tie Romney to “an extreme Republican majority” by virtue of the contempt vote, Team Obama must first demonstrate to the public that the House has done something inappropriate. But it cannot accomplish this in a vacuum. As cooperative as the MSM, including Politico, is, the story must be presented with a little context. And the context — a horrible program that resulted in deaths — is one that Team Obama cannot afford to have aired.

In sum, Romney can (and no doubt will) stay focused on the economy, while House Republicans pursue their legal options against Holder. And Obama can score no political points because the facts already known about Fast and Furious are too embarrassing.

Any day Romney spends talking about something other than the economy may be a wasted day for the Republican candidate. But any day Team Obama spends talking about issues related to Fast and Furious is a losing day for the president.

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