Sorting Out the Scandals

President Obama deserves the blame--but not for everything

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The irs's targeting of Tea Party groups is, however, an actual full-blown scandal. In fact, it is several scandals. The most obvious one was the lunkheaded effort by midlevel IRS employees to use an ideological shortcut--auditing groups with Tea Party and Patriots in their names--to find out whether they were engaging in political activity, which is illegal for "social welfare" groups under the 501(c)(4) provision of the tax code. But why on earth did they focus on tiny groups when the Karl Rove monstrosity Crossroads GPS was putting up $70 million in thinly veiled political ads? Then there was the behavior of their superiors: Did they tell the White House about this? Why did they lie to the House Ways and Means Committee about it? Was this a real case of what the Republicans are charging on Benghazi--an election-year cover-up?

A less obvious scandal is the question of why we have 501(c)(4)s in the first place. Why should groups promoting "social welfare"--now there's a category!--get a tax break? And also: How on earth did we get to the point where we have a tax code so complicated that regulation 501 has a subset (c) and a further subset (4)?

It can, and will, be argued that the President is to blame for lousy management. I've argued that in the past. Some in the Administration are saying that civil-service rules prevent Obama from firing the midlevel bozos. But what about the higher-ups? Why haven't the Democrats proposed a full-scale review of civil-service laws, which were concocted by President Chester Alan Arthur 130 years ago, when there was only a fraction of the federal workforce that we have now? Such laws certainly hinder effective governance, which the Democrats are supposedly selling. The failure of Democrats to govern well inevitably leads to a conservative reaction. That reaction will dominate our political life to the exclusion of almost everything else between now and 2014, and perhaps beyond.

The original version of this article stated that the Department of Justice's leak hunting took place under the authority of the Patriot Act. In fact, it was pursued under preexisting legal authorities.

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