The Obama administration was tediously, depressingly scandal-free for years. In fact, according to an analysis of press coverage by Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan, President Obama went the longest scandal-free of any president since 1977. Finally, the scandal-starved political types have found some relief. With the revelation that the IRS targeted Tea Party non-profit groups, people are talking about the high water mark of scandalous presidents, Richard Nixon. "Politicizing the IRS was one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon," pollster Doug Schoen told The Washington Post campaign reporter Chris Cillizza, who used the headline "IRS wrongdoing threatens to become a major issue for Democrats." Of course, this particular D.C. scandal involves IRS agents working in a field office in Cincinnati — and President Obama, at a Monday press conference with David Cameron, called it "outrageous" if true, and that "people are properly concerned about." But never mind. You go to congressional hearings with the scandal you have, not the scandal you want. It's all enough for the various players in the capital's political-media complex to resume their usual roles for a performance of Wartergate-in-miniature as we head into scandal mode.
Matt Drudge is playing the role of Doom Merchant, tweeting that Obamacare means the IRS will have everyone's heath records, and implying the government will use them to target enemies. Maybe for death? "And in 25 years after the great civil war, after American Holocaust is over, a brave new president will unplug the database, vow NEVER AGAIN," Drudge says.
House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa is playing the role of Dogged Investigator. Admittedly, Issa didn't catch this one on his own. Lerner admitted what the IRS had done at a conference. And Issa's hearings into Solyndra and Fast and Furious didn't have much success in turning those issues into Scandals. One of the problems with pushing Benghazi into full-blown scandal territory has been the focus on how the Obama administration described bad acts, not on over bad acts done by the Obama administration. Issa issued this generic scandal quote on Meet the Press about the IRS, "here has to be accountability for the people who did it. And, quite frankly... there's got to be accountability for people who were telling lies about it being done."
Glenn Beck is playing the role of Vindicated Victim. Glenn Beck gloated to the Associated Press that he'd been on this story for a year, because his 9/12 Project was targeted. "It is nice to see everyone else playing catch-up and finally asking the same questions that TheBlaze started raising over a year ago," Beck said. On Saturday, he tweeted, "7days ago our president warned against those who believed ingovernment tyranny.Yesterday his IRS admitted "targeting" constitutionalists#912."
Chuck Todd is playing the role of Outraged Reporter. Like Chris Cillizza, Todd is a campaign reporter, and so it is not surprising that he would analyze the scandal through an electoral lens. (1974 was a great year for Democrats!) Todd said on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Monday, "This story has more legs politically in 2014 than Benghazi," Todd said. "Of course the Republican Party’s jumping on this, they’re standing up for members of their base constituency, and at the same time, beating up the IRS is always good politics. Why aren’t there more Democrats jumping on this? This is outrageous no matter what political party you are. Where was the sense of outrage?"
On Meet the Press on Sunday, David Brooks said that the Obama administration was full of people who wouldn't be susceptible to money or sex scandals, but were "very political." Brooks said, "And so you could have this means spread that this is a hyper-politicized group of people who will twist things." Of course, Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS's tax-exempt-organizations division and knew about the targeting of conservative groups by 2011, got her job in 2006, under the Bush administration. Details, details. On ABC's This Week, George Will was skeptical that it was really just some guy in Ohio making this decision -- "How stupid do they think we are?" He read an article of impeachment against Nixon. Carl Bernstein, one half of the Washington Post duo that actually broke Watergate, cautioned restraint. "In the Nixon White House, we heard the president of the United States on tape saying 'Use the IRS to get back on our enemies,'" Bernstein said on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Monday. There's no evidence Obama did that. But saying the word "Nixon" a whole bunch of times can't hurt.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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