Rep. Gary Ackerman during a news conference. (March 5, 2010)

Rep. Gary Ackerman during a news conference. (March 5, 2010) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The man with the carnation in his lapel is finishing up three decades in the House of Representatives, but he's not going out quietly.

At a hearing last Thursday by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights) pulled no punches, making one of his final committee appearances one to remember. The subject was Benghazi.

You may have heard of it. If you haven't, put it this way: It's a subject so pressing that in closed hearings on Friday, it's the only thing the lawmakers reportedly discussed with former Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus -- not that other subject, you know, Paula Broadwell.

So why is Benghazi a big deal?

First, and most important, four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, died in a September attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. Stevens loved Libya and Libyans, and he played a major role in the liberation of Benghazi during the uprising against the despotic regime of Moammar Gadhafi.

Second, Benghazi was -- and remains -- a political rallying cry. As events in Benghazi unfolded, Mitt Romney jumped in with premature and off-the-point criticism of President Barack Obama, adding an element of farce to a national tragedy. Well, the election is over, and Romney is slowly receding from the national stage. But Benghazi the rallying cry lingers.

If they can prove that Obama or his surrogates lied about Benghazi, some Republicans are doubtless thinking, the word Benghazi will appear in the articles of impeachment that they are already writing in their heads. Bang! Game over! In the theater of their minds, they still hear the honey-smooth echo of former Sen. Howard Baker's Watergate-era question about Richard Nixon: "What did the president know and when did he know it?"

Third, and vitally important for the future, Benghazi poses a legitimate question: Are our diplomats adequately protected? That's the issue that got Ackerman's anger going at last week's hearings in Washington.

"You know, the stench of hypocrisy that hangs over this city today emanates from this room," he said, listing some of the epithets his colleagues had hurled at Obama, in asking who was responsible for Benghazi.

"If you want to know who is responsible in this town, buy yourself a mirror. Those of us who have been to the hearings and briefings and markups hear time and time again from our colleagues that, 'This costs too much money, and we have to make cuts.' Well, our 'evildoing, American-citizen-hating' administration requested a lot more money than we provided. They requested for worldwide security $440 million more than you guys wanted to provide, a quarter of a billion dollars in security upgrades that you refused to make in this committee. And then you have the audacity to come here and say, 'Why wasn't the protection of these people provided for?' And the answer is because you damn didn't provide it."

The committee also heard arguments that budgets had nothing to do with these deaths, and that a few more security guards might only have meant more dead Americans anyway. But two months after the deaths, the broader question remains: Are we spending enough on the security of our diplomats, and spending it wisely? And if intelligence failed us -- what a shocker, the CIA messing up -- let's fix it.

But can we please stifle the political bloodlust? If desire for impeachment is what's driving some lawmakers, they need to remember how badly the last impeachment served the nation. Despite that prolonged agony, Bill Clinton survived, left office with a high approval rating -- and now, even Republicans often sing his praises.

So let's not go there.

Bob Keeler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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