Bureaucrat Whispering's Death Rattle

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Over the past month or so, columnists for major newspapers have gotten it into their heads that the "scandal" involving IRS agents in Cincinnati inappropriately scrutinizing conservative non-profit groups can be traced back to President Obama. According to these professional pundits who are paid very well to fill column space for their newspapers' print and online editions, the anti-Tea Party vibes Obama put out were picked up on by the IRS bureaucrats, who were then subconsciously impelled to exact retribution on the president's political enemies.

It turns out that this theory of presidential pseudo-telepathy was completely and fantastically wrong. Who could have predicted?

Newly revealed IRS documents show that the agency's targeting efforts were also aimed at progressive groups, medical marijuana groups, organizations focused on Middle East policy -- not just conservative and Tea Party groups.

This is a big problem for columnists like Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal, who devoted no fewer than three columns to the idea that the White House was "involved in the IRS's targeting of conservatives" because President Obama said ungenerous things about the Tea Party and created an "environment in which the IRS thought this was acceptable." Here's what she wrote on June 7:

The president of the United States spent months warning the country that "shadowy," conservative "front" groups -- "posing" as tax-exempt entities and illegally controlled by "foreign" players -- were engaged in "unsupervised" spending that posed a "threat" to democracy. Yet we are to believe that a few rogue IRS employees just happened during that time to begin systematically targeting conservative groups?

Turns out this scenario that Strassel thought so unbelievable was pretty much exactly what happened, except that the IRS was also targeting liberal groups. If she has an explanation for how Obama is responsible for that as well, we'd love to hear it.

It's not just Strassel who has some explaining to do. Fox News' Erick Erickson wrote that the "scandal" started with Obama, who "certainly sent clear signals to Democrats with the power and ability to fight conservatives to engage as they could."

Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post argued that "there was no email from Obama to the Internal Revenue Service saying it should go after tea party groups. [... ] But President Obama signaled in every way possible that critics were not merely opponents, but were enemies."

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Reagan Department of Justice veterans David Rivkin and Lee Casey opined that "the Obama administration made clear its deep dislike of Citizens United and of the various new conservative groups spawned by the 'tea party' movement," and "the IRS has always been well-attuned to even subtle guidance from the White House."

This notion of "bureaucrat whispering" never made sense in the abstract, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that it's completely fallen apart as more information about the IRS's activities has emerged. Then again, the theory was never intended to be "proved;" its proponents openly acknowledged that there would be no document or physical proof demonstrating that the White House directed the IRS to target conservatives. It is and always was a vehicle for lazy conservative pundits to tie the president to the IRS scandal and dredge up whatever circumstantial evidence they could to give it the appearance of plausibility.

Posted In
Taxes, Government
Wall Street Journal
Kimberley A. Strassel, Erick Erickson, Jennifer Rubin
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