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May 22, 2013 12:53 PM Losing the Thread on the IRS Mess

By Ed Kilgore

As of this morning, the IRS “scandal” has shifted so thoroughly and quickly that it’s easy to lose the thread of what we are supposed to be upset about. As Brother Benen nicely summed it up:

When it comes to the IRS controversy, I’m starting to get the impression that the goalposts have moved rather quickly.
The initial allegation raised by the right and other White House critics is that President Obama’s White House, if not the president himself, may have been directly involved. As this story goes, Team Obama sent word to an IRS office in Cincinnati to apply extra scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
When every shred of evidence suggested this allegation is baseless, the charges shifted from “Obama did too much!” to “Obama did too little!”

Steve also aptly quotes Jeffrey Toobin’s characterization of the apparent behavior of the White House towards on ongoing investigation as “the opposite of a cover-up.” They let the Inspector General’s office do its job and didn’t interfere. And as for the planted axiom that the White House’s failure to make a big public deal out of the investigation is suspicious, there’s the inconvenient fact that congressional Republicans, most particularly the Grand Inquistor himself, Darrell Issa, knew about the investigation (and of Tea Party complaints that their 501(c)(4) applications were being stonewalled by the IRS), and didn’t think enough of it to help make it a 2012 campaign issue.

Among reporters (e.g., WaPo’s normally excellent Dan Balz) who understand there’s no real legal culpibility here for the White House, the latest game is to blame the White House for political incompetence in letting the president get blind-sided on this issue, and in not treating the “scandal” with sufficient seriousness when it “broke.”

Well, whatever. It’s not exactly breaking news that this White House, like any White House, isn’t politically infallible. If the scandal is poor handling of the scandal, we are a very long way from the original claims, which are still being repeated every single second throughout conservative-land, that the administration has gotten caught deploying the IRS to destroy the First Amendment rights (which apparently includes the right not to pay taxes and to hide donors) of innocent activists who were minding their own business.

The ultimate howler here is that we are supposed to believe that IRS bureaucrats, in obedience to the “dog whistle” of the president’s demonization of conservative groups’ involvement in the 2012 presidential campaign, chose to ignore the groups that were actually involved in the campaign in a significant way, and instead go after small fry Tea Party organizations (who apparently could not express their views without a certificate of tax-exempt status), many undoubtedly operating in non-competitive states. This idea reflects the deeper delusion that the Tea Party Movement is perceived by Democrats as a deadly threat to their electoral prospects, instead of as the Democratic Party’s very best friend, driving the GOP into extremism and political cul de sacs every day. You know, like the one we’re all barreling down right now in inflating IRS stupidity in processing 501(c)(4) applications into the central issue of American politics (with the possible exception of Benghazi!).

But hey, forget all that: Lois Lerner (the same bureaucrat who came up with the brilliant idea of making this whole subject very public by planting a question about IRS “targeting” at a luncheon so that she could “apologize”) is taking the Fifth! Crimes must have been committed! To hell with those portions of the Bill of Rights that don’t involve the self-protection of Tea Folk! To hell with the law and logic! Down the rabbit hole we go, world without end!

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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