Advertisements

There’s Still an IRS Scandal

Now that the Syrian crisis has faded into an inevitably dissatisfactory diplomatic solution, and the ongoing economic crisis has become too commonplace to comment on, this seems a good time to revisit one of the scandals that were allowed to fade away in all the commotion. The mainstream press has happily moved on from the sorry saga of the Internal Revenue Service harassing the president’s political opponents, but there are two recent developments in the story worth noting.
One is an e-mail recently released by the House Ways and Means Committee, which has been diligently digging into the matter despite the despite lack of attention paid by the media and general public, that shows Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS’ Exempt Organizations office, personally and quite specifically directed her minions to crack down on any group associated with the “Tea Party” movement of conservative activists. Lerner, who has claimed the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination and relieved of her duties while continuing to receive a full salary, reportedly cited her objections to the Citizens United ruling in the Supreme Court which reaffirmed the right of business to free speech and called the Tea Party “dangerous” in her directive.
Many of the media outlets that moved on from the story did so with assurances that the harassment of conservative groups was the work of a few rogue agents far down on the chain of command, but the newly revealed e-mail is further proof that the scandal went much further up into the agency and possibly even past Lerner and her carefully zipped lips. There was also some talk that the IRS had been harassing applicants for tax-exempt status with a bi-partisan and non-ideological bullying, but the e-mail adds to the proof of the Inspector General’s investigations that the groups on the right were far more likely to be targeted those on the left.
Any doubts about that matter are further set to rest by the recent revelation that predominately African-American churches and other Democratic-affiliated organizations were given special instructions by not only the IRS but also the Attorney General’s office on how to engage in political activism without inviting governmental scrutiny. The Attorney General himself reportedly sat in on the meetings, offering advice on the fine points of the law and how to skirt them, and it was all in town for the massive get-out-the-vote effort prior to the president’s re-election campaign. Perhaps the Attorney General was just as generous in his counsel to more conservative churches, but thus far we have not heard the evidence.
Such disparate treatment by the government’s most feared agencies is an outrage, of course, but somehow the country doesn’t seem very outraged. Some lingering sense of the scandal might contribute at least slightly to a growing sense of disappointment with the current administration, but we feel obliged to roil the anger. At least one congressman is insisting on criminal charges against Lerner, and we’d like to see even more payback than that.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Hooked on Phoniness

Back when the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of “tea party” and other conservative groups was said to be the work of a few rogue agents in the far-flung outpost of Cincinnati, President Barack Obama said that he was “angry” about the “inexcusable” misconduct and that “Americans are right to be angry about it.” Now that a high-level IRS employee has given testimony that brings the matter as high up as the presidentially-appointed chief counsel’s office, the official administration line is that it’s just another “phony scandal.”
The White House press secretary introduced the phrase a few times before Obama himself took it up in a speech about the economy, suggesting that anyone who cares about the IRS’ harassment of his political enemies simply doesn’t care about the unemployed, and now Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is gamely using the slogan. In an enjoyably confrontational Sunday morning interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, which demonstrates why the administration hates that network with such a white-hot intensity, Lew stubbornly insisted that both right-wing and left-wing groups had been treated with equal “very bad judgment,” that those responsible have been removed and the need reforms instituted, and that “There’s no evidence of any political decision maker who was involved in any of those decisions.”
Wallace was admirably feisty with his follow-up questions, but time constraints apparently prevented him from noting that an Inspector General’s investigation finds that conservative groups were subjected to “very bad judgment” by the IRS far more frequently than their liberal counterparts, that the only people removed from the agency were an agency head set to retire anyway and a Fifth Amendment-pleading director of the exempt organizations division who continues to draw her sizeable paychecks. Nor was he able to ask exactly what reforms have been instituted, or why they should be any more successful than the rules already in place to prevent such abuses. Having already noted the sworn testimony by a highly-placed veteran agent that puts the scandal in the chief counsel’s office, but without noting the chief counsel’s intriguingly timed meeting at the White House just two days before a directive was issued on how to handle “tea party” applications, Wallace asked about the investigations that Lew insisted had found no evidence of political motive.
In the same speech that included his “anger” about the “inexcusable” IRS scandal the president also said he had personally directed to Lew get to the bottom of the matter, so Wallace naturally wondered if Lew’s dogged digging had included asking the chief counsel about his involvement. Following some hemming and hawing, Lew eventually conceded that he had not because “I am leaving the investigation to the proper people who do investigations, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to do the investigation.” So the person that the president picked to investigate the matter doesn’t think he should be investigating it, but he does assure the public that he and his department will cooperate with all other investigations, although so far his department has only provided less than a percent of the documents that the Senate investigating committee has requested.
Somehow it all sounds, well, phony.

— Bud Norman

New Details on an Old Scandal

Now is the perfect time for it, if you’re hoping to spare the Obama administration any further embarrassment, but there have been even more revelations about the Internal Revenue service’s targeting of conservative groups.
Although it was not widely noticed in the midst of all the post-Zimmerman racial hysteria, a report in the impeccably mainstream Washington Post puts the scandal as high up as the agency’s presidentially-appointed chief counsel and close enough to the administration that the paper is obliged to note that “No evidence so far has definitively linked the White House to the agency’s actions.” Even without all the Zimmerman hubbub you might have missed a story in Accounting Today, a web site for certified public accounts and anyone with an interest in certified public accountancy, which reports that the tax records of donors to conservative candidates and organizations were illegally made public.
Both stories are worth noting, even with a riveting racial morality play on the other pages, but much of the press would probably find some reason to underplay them in any circumstances. Using the IRS to harass political enemies was one of the articles of impeachment brought against President Richard Nixon, even though no evidence so far has definitely linked the White House to the agency’s actions, and prospect of the agency’s unbridled powers being used to squash dissent is no less serious today.
There’s a lot going in the world, including the Justice Department’s efforts to limit the citizenry’s right to self-defense in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, and much of it deserves the public’s close scrutiny. The IRS scandal certainly merits more attention, and more outrage, that it has lately been getting.

— Bud Norman

Inside the Insider Threat Program

The latest scandal to beset the Obama administration is the ominously-named Insider Threat Program, an executive order issued shortly after the Wikileaks scandal that attempted to plug such national security leaks by having federal employees and contractors rat on one another for any suspicious behaviors. This information comes courtesy of the McClatchy newspaper chain, which also reports that agencies having nothing to do with national security were also affected and that experts believe the suspicious behaviors that are to be reported are not reliable predictors of any illegal acts, and it’s attracted enough attention from the other media that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was forced to admit that he was “stumped” by the insistent questions at a news conference and was completely unaware of the program’s existence.
Although we never actually worked for the McClatchy company it has somehow acquired the obligation to pay us a pension in our old age, so we take its reporting seriously. The company’s reporting has been annoyingly pro-Obama for the most part, at least by the measure of the local newspaper that it bought a few years ago, but in this case it raises several troubling questions. One might well wonder, for instance, why it took so long — after the election, in fact — for a directive that was issued to some five million people to come to light. One might also wonder why Carney didn’t get the memo, given that he’s a federal employee who has surely witnessed enough strange behavior to fill a warehouse of files, and there are more significant questions as well.
As satisfying as it is to know that government workers have been subjected to the same level of insufferable co-worker snoopiness as their private sector counterparts, there is something troubling about the idea that they have been asked to tattle-tale for such easily explained behaviors as financial difficulties, odd working hours, or “unexplained travel.” Combined with the revelations of the Internal Revenue Service harassing the administration’s political opponents, the Department of Justice treating investigative reporting as a criminal conspiracy, the National Security Agency combing through the phone and internet records of millions of Americans, requests that the public report “fishy” information about Obamacare to a White House web site, attempts to silence whistle-blowers on Benghazi and other scandals, as well as a frankly stated view that “the government is the only thing we all belong to,” it starts to give a claustrophobic feeling to life in the age of Obama.
The program doesn’t seem to have been a success, either. It was in effect well before the massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, but the officers who witnessed the crazed Islamist rantings and ravings of the shooter but apparently didn’t find it suspicious enough to overcome their fears of being thought Islamophobic by reporting it. Nor did it prevent the scandalous information about the NSA’s far-reaching data-gathering from being leaked by an unshaven 29-year-old with a stripper girlfriend and a penchant for Latin American satrapies. If the intent was to prevent any information embarrassing to the Obama administration from reaching the public, it must be judged an abject failure.
One might also wonder, for that matter, if Obama got the memo. Prior to the election there were a series of leaks about classified national security programs such as the weekly “kill lists” that the president approved to order drone strikes on suspected terrorists which bolstered his reputation as a tough-on-terrorism hawk rather than a Nobel Prize-winning peacenik, and all of them were attributed to “high-ranking administration officials” whose suspicious behaviors were presumably apparent to Obama. One of the leaks resulted in the imprisonment of a Pakistani doctor who had been helping the Central Intelligence Agency’s fight against terrorism, but it was one of those pre-election scandals that got little attention from the press. Perhaps Obama was every bit as outraged about those leaks as the ones that embarrassed rather than glorified administration, but that’s another thing one might wonder about.

— Bud Norman

A Poor Excuse for an IRS

The Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of numerous conservative groups that had applied for tax-exempt status was quite the scandal a while back, so bad that even the media took notice, the president was obliged to express his outrage, and the government’s more dogged apologists were forced to come up with some sort of explanation. Those bold enough insist there was no scandal at all thought they’d finally come up with the proof, a document indicating that the IRS was also ordered to “Be On the Look Out” for liberal groups, but it now looks as if they’ll have to find another excuse.
Claiming that the agency was mistreating citizens equally was an odd enough defense to begin with, but more information from the Treasury Department’s Inspector General who originally exposed the scandal indicate that it also has the disadvantage of being untrue. In a letter to Rep. Sander Levin, the Michigan Democrat who has been making much of the document, Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George notes that the “BOLO” — in the IRS acronym — did not apply during the years being investigated, and that agency’s treatment of various groups was not equal in any case. In his politely worded slap-down of a letter George further noted that only six groups with “progressive” or “progress” in their names were cited as potential political cases between May 2010 and Mary 2012, while 292 groups with names suggesting a conservative leaning were listed, with 100 percent of the conservative groups subjected to review while only 30 percent of the liberal groups received the same treatment.
As much as some people would hate to believe that anyone in the government might want to punish its law-abiding critics for their exercise of free speech, George’s revelations are hardly surprising. The IRS’ unequal treatment of “tea party” groups followed the President’s expressed opinion that the groups were racist, the Vice President’s likening the groups to terrorists, the Mayor of New York City’s speculation that they were involved in a plot to bomb Times Square which predictably enough turned out to be the work of an Islamist extremist, and vulgar efforts to vilify the anti-tax-and-spend movement by journalists, celebrities, activists, and partisans too numerous to mention. When “tea party” groups are receiving unequal treatment from the IRS in such an atmosphere, it will take more than one document to suggest that it’s mere coincidence.
The latest excuse was better than the previous efforts to blame Republican budget cuts, which became all the more laughable in light of subsequent scandals about the IRS spending habits, but in the end it will only have the effect of getting the scandal briefly back in the news. With so many people willing to overlook this outrageous abuse of government power, the better strategy might be a shrug and hopes that yet another scandal will crowd it out of the news.

— Bud Norman

Big Brother on the Verizon

As much as we love to see the Obama administration bogged down in yet another scandal, we’re not yet sure what to make of the recent disclosures about the National Security Agency’s internet and phone monitoring program. On the one hand it all seems to be legal, with congressional and judicial oversight, and there is thus far no evidence that any of the information gathered has been used for any nefarious purpose. On the other hand the program does seem unsettlingly Orwellian in its newly broad reach, and Congress and the courts have not been the most reliable guardians of liberty lately, and it does seem to hand a lot of information over to a government that has been rather ruthless in its dealings with political opponents.
The president took time out during a trip to California to tell reporters that he’s “happy” to have a debate about the program, and it should prove interesting. On one side you will find Sen. Barack Obama, the presidential candidate of ’07 who decried the Bush administration’s fledgling program as a dire threat to the freedom of ordinary Americans, frowning with his trademark indignation as he scolded “That’s not who we are.” On the other side is President Barack Obama, who has expanded the Bush policy “exponentially” according to the Washington Post, scoffing at the notion there’s any reason for concern about a government snooping through the phone and internet records of ordinary citizens and assuring the public that “Nobody is listening to your phone calls.”
When asked about it by a suddenly feisty press corps, the president modestly conceded some inconsistency in his positions and explained that his past “healthy skepticism” about the program had given way to a realization that its benefits outweighed the “modest encroachment on privacy.” Waxing pragmatic, he further explained that “You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.” Candidate Obama was once again indignant in his rebuttal, holding his chin high as he intoned that “This administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the securities we provide.”
Whatever the merits of the debate, it’s nice to see that Obama’s change of mind is being widely noted and frequently ridiculed by the media. A reporter at ABC News, of all places, even penned an apology letter that Obama might send to his much-maligned predecessor. If the president bothers to have another press conference soon he might also be asked how the program squares with his recent announcement that the government’s efforts against terrorism are winding down, because “That’s what democracy demands,” and the response should provide further fodder for satire. A bold reporter might even ask why they’re poring through the records of people there is no reason to suspect while ignoring a foreign government’s warning about the Boston Marathon bombers, but that would be too much to ask for.
Much of the left, including the fellow who revealed the program’s broad reach, seems to have decided they liked Candidate Obama a lot more than President Obama, and much of the right has decided they don’t care for either incarnation. Well respected national security hawks such as John Yoo have spoken out in Obama’s defense, or at least defense of his current position, which has further enraged the left, but the libertarian wing of the conservative movement seems fully outraged. This convergence made for a fascinating spectacle on Obama’s negotiations-with-China-and-golf trip, where he was protested by both Tea Partiers and Code Pinkos, and it should make for intriguing politics.
The vast middle of the political spectrum seems a bit disconcerted by the news, as well, or at least uneasy enough to laugh at the jokes suddenly being peddled by the late night comics. Yet another revelation about some top-secret security program might have gone unnoticed in the recent past, but coming on the heels of stories about the Internal Revenue Service bullying dissident groups and the Justice Department snooping through the phone records of major news organization, and after more than five years of an administration that makes no secret of its disdain for anyone who opposes its agenda, it’s a nervous laugh that the audiences offer. This administration is determined to expand the government’s power into every realm of American, from the health care system to the energy industries to charities of the Catholic Church, and that makes it a little more worrisome that they’re also peering into the phone records and internet searches of ordinary Americans. Hearing a president of the United States assure his people that he’s not listening in on their phone conversations has the same unpleasant effect as hearing one offer an assurance that he’s not a crook.

— Bud Norman

Falling in Line

Everything was supposed to be different by now. When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, it was supposed to herald the dawning of a brave new world. A trillion dollars or so of stimulus money handed out to the right Democratic constituent groups would cause an economic boom to pay for a slew of expertly administered programs that would cure every social ill, a bit of the impeccably multi-cultural president’s silver-tongued oratory in Cairo would soothe the most savage Islamist breast, and the most transparent administration in history would reveal no taint of the scandals that had so offended liberal sensibilities for the previous eight years. By now, the faithful truly believed, everyone would be marching in formation behind the great leader toward a glorious future.
Although it seems so very long ago, we vividly recall running into a friend who had just returned from an Obama rally on the eve of the Democrats’ state caucus back in ’08. She spoke at length about the wonderful things her newfound hero would surely accomplish, and with such a youthful idealism in her star-struck eyes that we were tempted to slap some sense into her, then promised that the best part would be when the country stopped bickering and was at long last united. When we assured her this would not happen, and that we were certain of the fact because we had every intention of opposing with every legal means at our disposal, she seemed quite taken aback but only momentarily disappointed by the news. Everyone else she knew was apparently of one mind about Obama’s leadership, and she was confident that the few contrarians would eventually come around.
The same expectation was widely shared by the president’s supporters, and for a while there it seemed possible that the opposition of a few individualists would indeed be overwhelmed by the collective adulation of the masses. Most of the media did their part, overlooking Obama’s paltry record of legislative accomplishments, longtime membership in the First Church of Hate Whitey, his sneering characterization of small town Americans, and various other scandals while focusing on the most minute and sometimes imaginary scandals of the opposition, and the photographs always seemed to include some sort of halo effect. Dissent was suddenly unfashionable after Obama’s election, and those who did dare express were treated harshly in the court of public opinion. A well-known radio commentator who openly hoped for Obama’s failure was pilloried in the press, and the president himself warned congress not to listen. The only television news organization that assumed an adversarial role in its coverage was widely mocked, with the president criticizing it by name. A mass protest movement by ordinary Americans opposed to the administration’s deficit spending and extensive health care reforms was portrayed by most of the news media as an extremist element constantly on the verge of violent revolution and was relentlessly ridiculed by the entertainment media. The bond holders in nationalized auto companies, Supreme Court justices issuing unfavorable rulings, wealthy donors to conservative causes, and others who stood in the way of the administration received similar vitriol.
In recent weeks it has been revealed that the official harassment of the administration’s opponents went beyond far beyond name-calling and stigmatization, with protest groups subjected to the menacing scrutiny of the Internal Revenue Service, journalists being treated as suspects in criminal investigations simply for doing their jobs, donors to opposition campaigns being hounded by various agencies of the government, and businesses being approached for donations by people with regulatory power over their industries. The administration professes to be appalled at what has been happening to the very people they have eagerly demonized for the past five years, and insists that of course it has nothing to do with what has been going on in its government, but the public seems to be growing skeptical lately. There’s no shaking a suspicion that the president had also expected that everyone would have fallen in line by now, and is not troubled if some are pressured rather than persuaded.
The economy has whimpered rather than boomed, the various new programs have shown little success and the big Obamacare triumph is looking like a “train wreck” even to its sponsors, the murderous impulses of Islamist terrorism are somehow proving immune to the president’s oratory, and the bickering continues in a country that is far from united. All of which makes it even more crucial to quash the dissent, as the entire collectivist project depends on having everyone go along. If some private company starts fracking oil and gas on private lands it keeps the prices down too low for the government’s “green energy” plans to succeed. People with legal claims to the industries being nationalized make it difficult to transfer their wealth to more favored groups. News organizations that report stories embarrassing to the administration undermine public confidence in the government’s ability to solve all their problems. Tax protestors make it difficult to raise the revenue required for an ever-expanding government. Donors to the opposition might even wind up getting a Republican elected.
Such dire outcomes cannot be tolerated, not when there’s a brave new world that might yet be achieved, and it should not come as a surprise that some people have been taught a lesson about keeping their mouths shut.

— Bud Norman

Cockiness in the Face of Scandal

All those pesky scandals seem to be taking their toll on the president’s popularity, judging by the latest round of opinion polls, but he remains confident. Cocksure might be the more apt word, in fact, given his recent actions.
The president is so little affected by the Benghazi fiasco that he has appointed as his new national security advisor the woman who played the lead role in peddling by the administration’s lies about it. Although the president has expressed his dismay that the Internal Revenue Service was singling out conservative groups for extraordinary scrutiny, yet the woman who ran the office where it was happening remains on her new job administering the vast Obamacare bureaucracy. The president’s Attorney General, meanwhile, remains in charge of a Justice Department that has been snooping through the phone records of reporters and millions of ordinary American citizens.
Having won re-election despite such scandals as the crony-capitalism Solyndra deal, the deadly Fast and Furious program, and the early revelations about the four deaths in Benghazi, and despite a weak economic recovery and the early warning signs that the Obamacare program was going to be a disaster, the administration’s cockiness is understandable. The president can safely assume that a significant portion of the country isn’t paying any attention, being too engrossed by the celebrity news programs where the president occasionally shows up as a much-fawned-over personage, and that another significant portion is so enamored of him and so hostile to his opponents that it will gladly forgive him any misdeed. Let the headlines inevitably recede, he can plausibly predict, and the more independent-minded voters will return to his cause just in time for the mid-term congressional and allow him to finish out his term with the unrestrained power that he enjoyed in his first two years.
It might work, but there is reason is to hope that it will not. The national media have at long last begun to notice the president’s fallibility, perhaps because the Justice Department’s probe of the Associated Press was one too many assaults on their profession, and although the media still haven’t reached the same levels of hysteria they displayed throughout the Bush administration they are at least more feisty than in the recent past. All the coverage seems to have dented the administration’s reputation for honesty, which never had any basis in reality to begin with, and once trust is lost it is rarely regained. Much of the public will begin look at the administration’s claims on a number of issues with a newfound skepticism, and when they take another look at the economy and Obamacare they’ll be harder to convince that things are going well.
There is no way of knowing how much the scandals have to do with it, but the president has not been successful lately in foisting his agenda on the country. He was routed on his pet gun control proposals, despite the emotional atmosphere that prevailed after the tragic Newtown shootings, and the immigration reforms that he has championed are stalled in Congress despite a bi-partisan effort to push them through while the scandals provide a smoke screen. The president was also forced to accept the “sequester” cuts in the rate of growth in the federal budget, with his efforts to blame every new misfortune on the slight decline failing to persuade anyone but the true believers, and if he has any economic program it doesn’t seem to be getting any attention.
This could all redound to the president’s benefit in the mid-terms, when the Democrats’ battle cry will be that everything is going to hell because the Republicans were too obsessed with insignificant scandals and failed to enact the president’s brilliant plan, whatever it was, but he shouldn’t be too cocky about it. The scandalous headlines will have receded a year from now, but they’ll have left a lingering sense of distrust and washed away the messianic image the president once enjoyed with the help of a partisan press, and they’ll be replaced by stories about health insurance rate hikes and the economic fallout of the Fed’s eventual realization that it can’t keep printing money forever, and the opposition will be both outraged and emboldened.

— Bud Norman

Auditing the IRS

Anyone who has worked for a large company in recent years has endured the time-wasting indignity of a conference. It might have been a conference devoted to diversity, sensitivity, creativity, or some similarly nebulous concept such as teamwork or “thinking outside the box,” but in every case it was countless hours of notebooks and buzzwords and other distractions from work that needed to be done.
There was some satisfaction, then, in learning that employees of the Internal Revenue Service have been subjected to much the same tortures inflicted on their private-sector counterparts. One can also hope that it kept them from hours of harassing conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. Still, the extraordinary cost and unusual stupidity of the activities constitute yet another outrage by the scandal-plagued agency.
The IRS conference held in California in 2010 featured $60,000 worth of videos that parodied “Star Trek” and “Gilligan’s Island” with bureaucratic in-jokes, $135,000 worth of speakers fees that bought a “happiness expert” and a sketch artist who hosted a “Leadership Through Art” session, and a dance lesson of undisclosed cost that forced the middle-aged and slightly overweight workers to bust a few disco moves for reasons that are also undisclosed. Baseball tickets, presidential suites, the sketch artist’s portrait of the rock star Bono, and other perquisites were offered to the participants as compensation for sitting or dancing through such balderdash, and according to an Inspector General’s report it all added up to a total cost of $4 million, with another $46 million or so for another 220 conferences over the past two years.
That’s chump change by federal government standards, and the agency’s few sympathizers will likely insist that the money was well spent on improving employee morale and exposing them to innovative ways of thinking, but it’s irksome nonetheless. To whatever extent these exercises actually improve employee performance they only allowed the workers to target their ideological opponents more ruthlessly, and surely someone out there in the vast free market is willing to spout to gibberish to the country’s bureaucrats at a lower cost to the taxpayer. We’d be quite willing to do the job for a mere half the $4 million cost of the conference, and we wouldn’t make anyone dance.
At the very least, it neatly refutes the argument that the IRS scandals are a result of the stingy Republicans’ crazy insistence on budget-cutting. The notion that IRS agents were forcing groups with “Tea Party” or “Patriot” on the applications to countless hours of extra questioning and paperwork because they were under-staffed never made any sense to begin with, but revelations about the agency’s profligate party budget makes it all the more absurd.
Anyone who has worked for a large company in recent years has probably seen down-sizing and budget-cutting, and he’se likely noticed that one of the few benefits to the process is that he spend less time in conferences. It’s time the folks at the IRS have the same experience.

— Bud Norman

Laugh Lines and the IRS

The latest scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service is a serious matter, involving as it does an agency of the government using its awesome powers to quash the free speech rights of a significant portion of the country, but there’s something undeniably comical about the excuses being offered.
There was the heartfelt apology from the IRS, offered in all sincerity just moments before an inspector general’s report was about to expose the misdeeds, and then the president’s strongly worded indignation that anyone in his government would ever do harm to his political enemies. This was followed by the explanation that only a few rogue employees in a far-flung Ohio office were involved, that although subsequent testimony showed the practices were ordered from Washington it did not go any higher than the middle levels of the bureaucracy there, that the agents were only demanding extra paperwork and extraordinary questions of conservative groups because the IRS was understaffed and over-worked, and that in any case those damnable Tea Party types had it coming. The lattermost explanation was somewhat undermined by the strongly worded indignation of the president, who insisted that much like Will Rogers he only knew what he read in the papers, and although it has since been revealed that his closest aides were aware of the outrages long before they hit the papers we are assured that they just didn’t want to bother him with such trivialities.
Just as it seemed that the scandal couldn’t become any more farcical, along comes David Plouffe. The former senior advisor to President Barack Obama took to the airwaves on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday to trot out the latest lines, and somehow maintained a straight face as he assured the viewers that “This was not a political pursuit.”
The assertion proved too much for fellow guest Karl Rove, the former senior advisor to President George W. Bush, who promptly declared the utterance “Baloney, baloney.” Rove rightly pointed out that conservative groups had been targeted for extreme scrutiny and long delays before being given tax-exempt status, while groups more friendly to the administration were given cursory glances and quick approval, and demanded to know how that could not be political. Plouffe insisted that liberal groups were also targeted, but when he failed to name a single one he seemed rather flustered by the frank rebuke. Eventually he sputtered that “This was no an effort driven by the White House. It would be the dumbest political effort of all time. OK?”
This wasn’t OK by Rove, who continued to blame the president for at the very least failing to police the IRS, and one needn’t be a former Bush advisor to be skeptical about Plouffe’s assurances. The harassment of the Tea Party groups began just after they had helped the Republicans to a landslide in 2010 mid-terms and seems to have helped in a concerted effort to blunt their political power just in time for the president’s re-election, so if it was indeed the dumbest political effort of all time it was somehow quite successful. Even if it were dumb to target conservative groups, that’s no reason to believe that the White House wouldn’t do it. It was dumb to sell guns to Mexican drug gangs, and loan hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars to unviable “green” companies that had contributed to the president’s campaign, and restructure the American health care system along lines that will raise premiums and discourage employers from hiring anyone for more than 29 hours of work a week, and any number of other policies that a reasonably well-informed critic could think of, but in each case the White House went ahead and did it.
The political consequences were always mild, thanks to the complacency of a supportive press, and there was no reason anyone at the White House should have expected for this scandal to be any different. They might just get away with it yet again, always a possibility given the complacency of the general public, but in the meantime they’re provoking some unintended laughs that can’t be good for business.

— Bud Norman