Barack Obama

Alas, Poor GOP: 3 D.C. Scandals That Weren't

Besides throwing the Obama administration off its stride, the three scandals roiling Washington and the 24-hour cable news channels have one thing in common: They’re shrinking steadily as more information becomes available. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein ably deconstructs them in his Wonkblog: the IRS-Tea Party scandal involves a group of employees in the IRS Cincinnati office who “started giving tea party groups extra scrutiny, were told by agency leadership to knock it off, started doing it again, and then were reined in a second time and told that any further changes to the screening criteria needed to be approved at the highest levels of the agency.” (I’ll have more to say about this after the jump.)

The Benghazi events, “tragic as they were,” have turned out to be “a bureaucratic knife fight between the State Department and the CIA” in which White House involvement was close to zero. As for the Department of Justice-Associated Press affair, Ezra writes,

The key point that’s too often overlooked in the AP case is that the leak the Justice Department was trying to plug had compromised a double agent planted by British intelligence inside Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. My colleagues in the press are particularly worked up about this one — how it’s going to cripple the AP and all that — but this could be the foul-up that’s the most understandable. Blowing an agent’s cover is very serious stuff, and planting a mole inside Al Qaeda is a particularly delicate and dangerous business. Republicans are right to be alarmed about the sloppiness of the entire affair — after all, you wouldn’t see a Republican administration blowing the cover of a secret agent, would you? Oh — right. Never mind.

The scandal that has the strongest air of wrongdoing is the IRS scandal. That’s the one that’s got even liberals righteously huffing and puffing about the “use” of the agency for political purposes. That word “use” is key — it implies that the administration decided to do this. There hasn’t been a shred of evidence that this is the case. Just as important, it’s not clear that this was a political witch hunt or fishing expedition, even a low-level one.

In fact, it’s looking more and more like a case of the IRS tax-exemption department being very suddenly flooded with applications from organizations, overwhelmingly on the right, that saw a sudden fund-raising opportunity in 2010 due to a confluence of circumstances — popular anger over Obamacare and the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United.

John Cassidy, writing in The New Yorker, points out that the sudden increase in workload that winter might be the main story. Or not.

Noam Scheiber argues in The New Republic, the real sin of the IRS employees in question was political incorrectness — noticing patterns of behavior among members of a given group that polite society would prefer we not notice or mention. When executed as policy, political incorrectness becomes profiling — singling out members of a group for different treatment based on perceived patterns of behavior among some or many members of that group. Scheiber writes:

And by the way, at least three liberal groups were subjected to the same extra scrutiny that the Tea Party groups received, Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday.

The Republicans have been looking for Democratic scandals to match Watergate and Iran-contra for close to 20 years (remember Vince Foster z”l?) and turning up duds. The difference is that Watergate and Iran-contra did indeed go right up to the highest reaches of the reigning (Republican) administrations — and in the case of Watergate, right into the Oval Office. If any Democratic administration has been guilty of comparable skullduggery, it has yet to be shown. But count on those Republicans to keep trying. After all, what’s their alternative? Spend their time legislating?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Author

J.J. Goldberg

J.J. Goldberg

Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).

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Alas, Poor GOP: 3 D.C. Scandals That Weren't

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