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May 17, 2013

Kimberly Strassel: Obama Set the Tone, the IRS Executed It

Who will rid me of this troublesome Tea Party?

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.

Mr. Obama now professes shock and outrage that bureaucrats at the IRS did exactly what the president of the United States said was the right and honorable thing to do. "He put a target on our backs, and he's now going to blame the people who are shooting at us?" asks Idaho businessman and longtime Republican donor Frank VanderSloot.

And of course there's more there.

Peggy Noonan is also worth reading.

We are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate. The reputation of the Obama White House has, among conservatives, gone from sketchy to sinister, and, among liberals, from unsatisfying to dangerous. No one likes what they're seeing. The Justice Department assault on the Associated Press and the ugly politicization of the Internal Revenue Service have left the administration's credibility deeply, probably irretrievably damaged. They don't look jerky now, they look dirty. The patina of high-mindedness the president enjoyed is gone.

Something big has shifted. The standing of the administration has changed.

As always it comes down to trust. Do you trust the president's answers when he's pressed on an uncomfortable story? Do you trust his people to be sober and fair-minded as they go about their work? Do you trust the IRS and the Justice Department? You do not.

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.

But he is not unconnected, he is not a bystander. This is his administration. Those are his executive agencies. He runs the IRS and the Justice Department.

A president sets a mood, a tone. He establishes an atmosphere. If he is arrogant, arrogance spreads. If he is to 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.


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posted by Ace at 10:45 AM

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