Apparently now that House Republicans have decided to convene a committee to investigate Benghazi, House Democrats are still deciding whether they should participate at all. And while I think there are valid arguments for Democrats to at least participate in the proceedings, I think a very instructive analogy to point to is the recent debate between Bill Nye and the Creation Museum's Ken Ham.
The debate over whether or not scientists should even debate creationists has been going on for quite awhile now in that community, which is why I think it is an informative analogy for the debate over whether House Democrats should participate in the Benghazi committee.
At the heart of the debate for many scientists is that simply by debating, creationism is given a perception of equal significance to science, and this alone is enough for most scientists to refuse to debate creationists.
Democrats run the risk of doing much the same by participating in another Benghazi investigation. It leads to the perception that there actually is something to investigate, that the Republicans' position is more valid and sane and less laughable than it really is, even though there is already a mountain of evidence strongly suggesting that there isn't.
And much like debating creationists plays into their hands by giving them examples to show that there is some debate and it is therefore ok to say as much in science classrooms, participating in the Benghazi hearings runs the risk of setting a bad precedent by sending the message that claiming Benghazi conspiracies is ok and acceptable, because respected voices on both sides of the aisle deem it as such. Especially given the political environment these days where just the mantle of bipartisanship often goes unchallenged, while largely lending an unwarranted sense of legitimacy.
And yet, even though the majority of scientists prefer not to debate creationists, we have a recent notable example of this happening with the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate.
And how did that turn out?
By pretty much all accounts, Bill Nye ended up winning the debate.
But how much has it really changed things? Even though Bill Nye won that debate, there have not been many profound changes in Americans' beliefs in creationism (I have not found any polls since the debate, but I doubt the percentage will have changed much in the science direction). There have not been any changes in how many state legislatures are pushing creationism into classrooms. Creationists have not lost much at all.
Even though Bill Nye and science won a symbolic victory, was it really worth the outcome?
One of the viewpoints that come up in response to Nye vs. Ham is that, as far as these debates go, they are not about converting the hard core believers. Rather, it is about reaching those more in the middle who may already have doubts, who need to hear some of these arguments when these people are mostly sheltered from this evidence. And perhaps the Benghazi hearings offer that kind of opportunity as well.
However, where the analogy with the Nye vs Ham debate breaks is the significance that our fellow Americans have in shaping how significant the Benghazi panel ends up being. Handled correctly, it could give the GOP a black eye that their stance is much like McCarthyism that will be hard to live down. But handled incorrectly, and it could turn into a convenient political ploy, to be played out every two years again and again for years to come.
At this point in time (pretty much at this point last year), the evidence for a Benghazi conspiracy is about as strong as the evidence for creationism. House Dems, no, everyone has all the evidence they need to reasonably conclude that we know what happened in Benghazi, just as scientists have all the evidence they need to reasonably conclude that the Big Bang happened.
I have no doubt that there are many political points to be won if House Democrats do decide to participate in the Benghazi panel. After all, Dems are pretty much winning on every other major issue facing the country today; which basically belies the GOP's Benghazi strategy in the first place.
However, it comes with considerable tradeoffs as well.
House Democrats have to be sure that the value in participating is worth the tradeoff of giving Republicans the bipartisan panel they so desperately want.
In the end, Bill Nye says that he is glad that he debated Ken Ham.
If we keep making our arguments clear, and continue to vote and fight the political fights, together we can change the world.I sincerely hope that as House Democrats consider whether they should participate in the Benghazi committee at all, they don't focus on the arguments and the political fights, but that they do focus on the things they want to change about the world to direct those arguments and fights.