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Cartagena: Imperial garrisons, ladies of negotiable affection, and the horse race

[Welcome, Naked Capitalism readers! You might also enjoy this long-form 30,000 foot view I dug out of the vault because it keeps being right. It's a nifty analytical framework. --lambert]

Remember Travelgate? Back in 1993? The very first "scandal" the wingers ginned up to take down the Clinton administration? How the wingers frothed and stamped and went on and on and on about how the Clinton administration fired some officials who, after all, served at the pleasure of the President, and in the end, the whole story was a humongous nothingburger?* And how gleefully our famously free press played along? Happy, innocent days, before we understood that the legacy parties are two brands with the same owner, and when we thought that electing more and better Democrats was the answer!

Fast forward to 2012. Here's the Obama administration, having traveled to Cartagena, organizing "party space":

CARTAGENA, Colombia - Secret Service officials planning a wild night of fun in Colombia did some of their own advanced work last week, booking a party space at the Hotel Caribe before heading out to the night clubs [clubs, plural? Not just the Pley Club?], hotel sources tell ABC News. ...

ABC has learned that, when booking the party space, the men told hotel staff that they anticipated roughly 30 people.

Alrighty. Ya know, Obama's made 21 trips abroad to 44 different locations. Some enterprising reporter, assuming we still have any, enterprising, or reporters, might consider checking whether the Secret Service booked "party space" at any of these other locations, and, if so, whether "people" were brought back back to those spaces from "night clubs" as well.

And that same enterprising reporter might also ask who signed off on the invoices.

For whatever reason, Senator Collins from the great state of Maine seems to be taking point on this (and not the loud-mouthed and ineffectual Darryl Issa). She's focusing on the "foreign nationals" aspect:

Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told reporters she will ask Sullivan whether such incidents had occurred previously and wants the committee to hold a hearing on the episode.

“I find this to be so appalling,” Collins said. “I can’t help but think: What if the women involved [well put] had been spies? What if they’d been members of the drug cartel? What if they’d planted equipment or eavesdropping devices?”

Or what if they'd been agents of whatever Latin American government wanted to plaster a big #FAIL sign on Obama's back? Or even helpful civilians? Just saying.

I suppose the "foreign national" angle might play, but I think from a tactical standpoint it's a non-starter: National security issues are "serious," and so The Republican Id can't permit itself the thunderous, earth-shaking release of a strategic media bombing campaign, given the context, and it was the shock and awe of watching Republicans in action who just couldn't help themselves -- who would say or do anything to carry total war to their enemy -- that made The Lewinsky Matter such an effective assault. How exhilirating it must have been for them! Collins, however, has an air of sobriety which precludes that strategy. On the other hand, speaking of the "War on Women" ("the women involved"), Collins is a woman. And some of the details in this story...

At one point, the women felt outnumbered in the hotel rooms and requested that more women join them, Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, said in an interview.

Ugh. Just ugh. "A wild night of fun." For some.

The same enterprising reporter who goes through Obama's itinerary for what could well prove to be his single term in office, and checks out how many party spaces were booked at each port of call, might also give consideration to the idea of checking into the indigenous equivalents of Cartagena's Pley Club. I'm betting there's at least one very ugly story out there.

Of course, the real story here is that the Secret Service acted in Cartagena like imperial garrisons throughout history have always acted. That's because they are an imperial garrison.

But Obomney can't say that, Robama can't say that, the Demopubs can't say that, and the Republicats can't say that, because they share the conventional wisdom: (a) the United States is exceptional, (b) not an empire, and is in any case (c) an exceptionally good empire, a moral empire.

Oh, and back to the horse race: If the Republicans don't inflate this scandal to Travelgate dimensions -- if the Rovian dog does not howl in the night -- that curious incident would be a strong indicator that they just aren't serious about election 2012. The corollary here being, IMNHSO, that the race really is, if not exactly rigged, taking place within extremely narrow parameters set outside what we are pleased to call "the political process."

NOTE * This is the same crowd that impeached Clinton over a blowjob, so "nothing there" means, "really, not anything there at all. Zip. Zilch. Nada. A whole lot of nothing."

NOTE "Ladies of negotiable affection" is from the great Terry Pratchett.

UPDATE 2012-04-19 I'm reminded to speak of the GSA and Vegas incident as well. I suppose Republican operatives could start pushing a "Democrat Partiers" frame, but last I checked, the Vegas scandal is a simple case of "honest graft." Not the same issues raised by Cartagena at all. In fact, a very good way of not raising them. Rather like focusing on Solyndra instead of Goldman Sachs.

UPDATE 2012-04-20 Send in the tropes! Here's the ferociously [ha] right wing Washington Times conflating the GSA and Cartagena and then nattering on about "perception." Here's a garden variety glibertarian using the "big government" frame. Democratic focus grouper Mark Mellman agrees: "What's wrong with government." Towards the left, here's the Guardian using the trafficking frame. FOX, of course, says "Look! Over there! Hillary!" Also, too, "Sarah Palin!"

The one thing the story cannot be is what it is: The empire, and the entitlements of its operatives. Meanwhile, no Republicans keeping the story alive at all, and especially not the Romney campaign. So, if nothing breaks this news cycle, I'd say the thing is dead, except as a bullet point in the "big government" narrative that both legacy parties support. Well played on all sides! Corollary: Obama is in.

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