Because it resulted in the resignation of a president, Watergate had the most profound consequences of any political scandal. But was it our worst?
No one was killed or injured. Nor were Cabinet officers or members of Congress bribed to provide benefits at taxpayer expense to special interest groups, as in the two earlier scandals mentioned in history books -- Teapot Dome (1921-24), and Credit Mobilier (1872-73).
Since Watergate, these scandals have drawn a lot of attention:
• Iran-Contra (1986). The Reagan administration secretly sold weapons to Iran, and used the proceeds to finance anti-Communist guerrillas in Nicaragua. The defense secretary, the national security adviser and a military adviser to the National Security Council were convicted of deceiving Congress. Their convictions were overturned.
• Robert Novak mentioned in a 2005 column that Valerie Plame, wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, worked at the CIA. Mr. Novak learned of Ms. Plame's occupation from an apparently inadvertent disclosure by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. She worked at CIA headquarters, so there was no violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But Irving "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of lying to the FBI about when he learned where Ms. Plame worked, and who he told about it.
• In 2007, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez fired eight U.S. attorneys, allegedly for political reasons. No laws were broken, because U.S. attorneys are political appointees, who may be fired at any time for any reason, but Congress investigated anyway. Mr. Gonzalez resigned.
As in Watergate, no Americans were killed or injured in these "scandals," no money was taken from taxpayers. Not so in these:
• Security was "substandard" at our consulate in Benghazi, where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. The attack was the work of al-Qaida, the administration learned within 24 hours. But senior officials -- including the president -- lied about it for more than a week.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also falsely described security at the consulate as "robust," and denied, falsely, that the CIA had suffered an intelligence loss.
• More than 300 Mexicans and two U.S. law enforcement officers have been killed by guns the Obama administration deliberately let "walk" across the border to Mexican drug cartels. When the inspector general for the Department of Justice investigated, the White House refused to cooperate. The president claimed, falsely, the operation began during the Bush administration. The chairman of the House Oversight Committee suspects a cover-up.
• To boost President Barack Obama's political prospects, senior White House aides disclosed sensitive intelligence information. As a result of their disclosures, a British operation in Yemen was blown; the Pakistani doctor who helped us locate Osama bin Laden's hideout was arrested and tortured; the mullahs in Iran were given clues to how to combat cyber attacks on their nuclear program; and a bullseye may have been put on the Navy SEALs who killed bin Laden.
• More than 80 percent of the subsidies for "green" energy have gone to firms owned or run by the president's contributors. Nearly all the firms are in financial trouble. None have produced the energy or the jobs promised.
Iran-Contra dominated the news for months. But there's been little mention in the "mainstream" media so far of the consequences of "substandard" security at the consulate in Benghazi, or of the administration's dissimulations about it.
The Valerie Plame affair got much more attention from the media than have the leaks from the White House that Democrats as well as Republicans on the intelligence committees consider dangerous breaches of national security.
The "gunwalking" scandal is much bigger than even congressional investigators suspected, according to an investigative report broadcast on Univision recently. But except for the Spanish language network, the scandal has been invisible to broadcast television.
Teapot Dome and Credit Mobilier were big stories for years. But from them taxpayers got just a light trim, compared to the scalping they're getting on auto bailouts and green energy subsidies.
The seriousness of the offenses doesn't seem to matter. So what is it that makes a scandal "scandalous?"
A Republican president, obviously.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. email@example.com or 412-263-1476. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/