OK

Clowns
Leave it to Peggy Noonan to chew the scenery on this one. She'd like you to know that the president is "not unconnected" to IRS mismanagement and the FBI fetching AP phone records because of leadership osmosis. She also is fairly certain that the IRS business is some sort of Orwellian scheme to oppress conservatives, which would be fine and all if that's what happened. This is how desperately old-time Republican hands are aching for a good old fashioned White House scandal:
The president, as usual, acts as if all of this is totally unconnected to him. He's shocked, it's unacceptable, he'll get to the bottom of it. He read about it in the papers, just like you. […]

A president sets a mood, a tone. He establishes an atmosphere. If he is arrogant, arrogance spreads. If he is too partisan, too disrespecting of political adversaries, that spreads too. Presidents always undo themselves and then blame it on the third guy in the last row in the sleepy agency across town.

It was the third guy in the last row of the sleepy agency across town that did it, though. Nobody is seriously suggesting the White House had anything to do with it—and even firing the acting agency head is a bit scapegoatish, since it's not clear he had any awareness of the process either, until the IRS investigated itself and figured out what was going on. It requires quite the rhetorical bank shot to presume the president sets the "tone" for what civil servants he's never even heard of before have done wrong, while dismissing the "tone" set by the president specifically denouncing it and canning people.

The real problem, though, arises when Peggy Noonan adopts the now-stereotypical pose of the conspiracy theorist. It's all a plot, you see. It's intended to "suppress" the administration's opponents. Not the AP business, because even Peggy Noonan can't get worked up about that, she just had to toss it in there because that's what expected. No, what the IRS scandal shows is that from now on, all conservatives who get in trouble with the IRS for dodgy dealings will have done so because the mean president and his cruel government functionaries are have it in for them. That not-even-remotely-original conspiracy theory is exactly what Peggy Noonan is going with, below the fold:

In order to suppress conservative groups—at first those with words like "Tea Party" and "Patriot" in their names, then including those that opposed ObamaCare or advanced the second amendment—the IRS demanded donor rolls, membership lists, data on all contributions, names of volunteers, the contents of all speeches made by members, Facebook posts, minutes of all meetings, and copies of all materials handed out at gatherings. Among its questions: What are you thinking about? Did you ever think of running for office? Do you ever contact political figures? What are you reading?
Here's the thing, though. Organizations applying for tax-exempt status aren't supposed to be overtly political. I realize that nobody gives a flying damn about that, in real life, and that the law gets openly flouted by all of the biggest, wealthiest names in election-rigging, but it's not entirely surprising that some poor bastards in an IRS office, upon noticing a veritable flood of new supposedly nonpartisan organizations all with near-identical names and near-identical, deeply political sounding mission statements, suspect that some of these groups are maybe not quite clear on the whole "you're not supposed to be primarily a political outfit" bit of nonprofit law. The main outrage seems to be that these groups weren't just given the same blanket permission to ignore the law that the bigger, older electioneers have recently been wallowing in, is that it?

And are we really going to be surprised that in the process of determining which organizations applying for non-political, tax exempt status might be political, they are going to be asked questions about their political status? Are we acting shocked, now, that dealing with the IRS can, for nonprofits, sometimes be a tremendous pain in the ass? That they ask for ridiculous amounts of paperwork? Many of the people acting the most shocked are politicos who have had no small involvement with the various 501 groups themselves—if they are unaware of the hoop-jumping that is sometimes asked for, it is because they were living in a chauffeured box.

The second part of the scandal is the auditing of political activists who have opposed the administration. The Journal's Kim Strassel reported an Idaho businessman named Frank VanderSloot, who'd donated more than a million dollars to groups supporting Mitt Romney. He found himself last June, for the first time in 30 years, the target of IRS auditors. His wife and his business were also soon audited. Hal Scherz, a Georgia physician, also came to the government's attention. He told ABC News: "It is odd that nothing changed on my tax return and I was never audited until I publicly criticized ObamaCare."
Peggy then lists a few more examples of people who were (1) conservative and (2) audited. The natural assumption is that the relationship must of course be causal. Who ever heard of a non-conservative being audited? Who ever heard of somebody criticizing ObamaCare and getting audited by the IRS as two separate, unrelated events?

This seems to be where we're going on this one. Conservatives already convinced that the government is out to get them are now quite assured that yes, anything that has happened to them means the government is out to get them. Their petty, crabby involvement with politics is so important that mighty eye of government cannot help but notice them, and oppress them. You can find a thousand or ten thousand or several tens of thousands of non-conservatives who have likewise been audited by the IRS in recent years, and it won't matter: Those audits will be run-of-the-mill, apolitical things, but audits of conservatives are, of course, a conspiracy. Noonan has just stumbled upon the realization that conservatives consider their every interaction with the government to be a black-helicoptered vendetta. She thinks this is a new thing. She believes them.

One of these days it's going to dawn on a conservative that in the same year they once criticized a Democrat, they got involved in a car accident. Did the government tamper with their side-view mirrors? In the same year as they donated to a conservative candidate, the fast-food joint around the corner got cited for health violations. Was it government agents trying to poison them? Other people might consider one audit in 30 years to be a damn good record—to an irritated Idaho millionaire, the one time he is audited becomes evidence of a conspiracy against him.

All of these IRS actions took place in the years leading up to the 2012 election. They constitute the use of governmental power to intrude on the privacy and shackle the political freedom of American citizens. The purpose, obviously, was to overwhelm and intimidate—to kill the opposition, question by question and audit by audit.
I never thought I'd say this, but I do believe Peggy Noonan is being a bit maudlin here. Really, this was evidence of an attempt to kill the opposition via irritating paperwork, thus making acquiring nonprofit status cumbersome? That was the grand plan? There was a grand plan?
It is not even remotely possible that all this was an accident, a mistake. Again, only conservative groups were targeted, not liberal.
Horseshit. Sorry, but it's simply not true. Non conservatives and (even liberal!) groups have reported the same scrutiny , and some had their tax-exempt status denied. Read the damn news. Even to the extent "Tea Party"-named groups were grouped together, it was because there was suddenly so many of them popping up that grouping them together sounded to someone like a good idea. I have every expectation that if several hundred groups all named "Republicans Haveth The Cooties" all started seeking tax-exempt status from the IRS at the same time, that would also have gotten a bit of attention.
It is not even remotely possible the actions were the work of just a few agents. This was more systemic. It was an operation. The word was out: Get the Democratic Party's foes.
There's a fine line between acknowledging that some IRS officials badly screwed up in their classification system for investigating nonprofits—specifically, that grouping them by apparently political motivations of their names, no matter how convenient, was going to bite them—and presuming a master plan to not just group them, but target them in particular, and target all sorts of random conservatives around the country who maybe once said bad things about ObamaCare, and that it was obviously a grand conspiracy hatched at the highest levels of the government. And by "fine line," I mean there isn't a "fine line" at all, I was lying. One is what happened. The other is John Bircher crackpottery, the same paranoia that has elevated things like "Agenda 21" and "the government is hoarding bullets so that godfearing American gun lovers can't get any" into actual supposed arguments.

Why is it so all-fired important that every bad thing government be manufactured into the biggest possible bad thing? Why is Benghazi (yes, Noonan mentions Benghazi, possibly due to contract obligations with the voices in her head) so very certain to be a "scandal," no matter how many times Republican promoters open that curtain only to reveal, yet again, nothing behind it? Is there some flair for the melodramatic, for the grand operatic solo of woe and catastrophe, that is so required by the conservative philosophy that its practitioners would shrivel and die if not constantly pointing and shrieking at every shaking leaf, deeming it to be a bear? This is like a horror movie in which there is no actual horror, only a group of paranoid, possibly drunken teens being frightened by shadows.

And it would be shameful and shallow for any Republican operative or operator to make this scandal into a commercial and turn it into a mere partisan arguing point and part of the game. It's not part of the game. This is not about the usual partisan slugfest.
Then stop doing it. Nobody's forcing you to. It's perfectly possible to assert that agents inside the IRS did something wrong, or even that high-level officials inside the IRS did something wrong, without then jumping to the assumption that conservatives everywhere are being audited because they said bad things about the president. It's perfectly reasonable to demand answers as to why this happened and how the IRS can better blind itself to (sigh) partisan political activity masquerading as nonpartisan nonpolitical activity, or however the hell they're supposed to do that, without presuming cogs and wheels and other machinations behind every door. Not everything is Watergate. Not everything needs to be desperately pumped up into the worstest thing ever. Not everything requires bending the truth into a conspiracy theory just because rabid partisanship demands even supposed deep-thinkers engage in the conspiracy theories.

Grow the hell up, in other words. Stop tickling the ears of every addled conspiracy theorist in the country just because you can. Nobody is asking for punditry to be nonpartisan (heavens, we can't even get nonpartisan-ness from groups swearing on the American Tax Bible that they won't be partisan, that's how asinine we've all quite happily agreed to be) but it would be nice if the smart-sounding people on the newspaper pages didn't actively Make Shit Up.

Originally posted to Hunter on Fri May 17, 2013 at 01:28 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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