The Bureaucrat Whisperer

As of this writing, there is no indication that the IRS's inappropriate targeting of conservative political groups has any connection whatsoever to the White House. And some conservative talking heads are even acknowledging as much. But they're not letting that stop them from naming Barack Obama as the culpable party, arguing that the president is responsible due to his preternatural ability to bend the average bureaucrat to his maleficent will from afar.

It all started with RedState founder Erick Erickson, who wrote on May 15 that “Barack Obama never specifically asked that tea party groups and conservatives be targeted.” But...

But by both his language and the “always campaigning” attitude of his White House, he certainly sent clear signals to Democrats with the power and ability to fight conservatives to engage as they could. Given his rhetoric against his political opponents, it is no wonder sympathetic Democrats in the Internal Revenue Service harassed and stymied conservative groups and, though little mentioned, pro-Israel Jewish groups and evangelical groups.

“President Obama did not have to tell the IRS specifically to harass conservative, evangelical, and Jewish groups who might oppose him,” Erickson observed. “His rhetoric on the campaign trail and in the permanent campaign of the White House operations made clear what he wanted.”

From there the Obama-as-Svengali theory leapt to the Washington Post, where constantly and spectacularly wrong political blogger Jennifer Rubin offered her interpretation:

There was no email from Obama to the Internal Revenue Service saying it should go after tea party groups. We probably won't find the White House ordering the Justice Department to spy on reporters in contravention of established protocols and past practice. But President Obama signaled in every way possible that critics were not merely opponents, but were enemies.

Per Rubin, “you can't vilify enemies, run a hyper-partisan, never-ending campaign, consider the press as an illegitimate intrusion and expect underlings won't take in that ethos.”

Then there's Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal who insists in her latest column that the “bureaucrats at the Internal Revenue Service did exactly what the president said was the right and honorable thing to do.” According to Strassel:

President Obama and Co. are in full deniability mode, noting that the IRS is an “independent” agency and that they knew nothing about its abuse. The media and Congress are sleuthing for some hint that Mr. Obama picked up the phone and sicced the tax dogs on his enemies.

But that's not how things work in post-Watergate Washington. Mr. Obama didn't need to pick up the phone. All he needed to do was exactly what he did do, in full view, for three years: Publicly suggest that conservative political groups were engaged in nefarious deeds; publicly call out by name political opponents whom he'd like to see harassed; and publicly have his party pressure the IRS to take action.

This is a popular argument because it allows for literally anything to be brought forward as evidence of Obama's culpability. Any conservative hobbyhorse or perceived slight by Obama or anyone remotely connected to Obama (Rubin cites a comment from Nancy Pelosi) can be easily recast as part of the president's alleged campaign to undermine the tea party via innuendo and pseudo-telepathy. Most of the examples these three cite boil to down to simple campaigning. It's just a roundabout way of damning the president for being a politician.