Bob Franken: The stumbling presidency
The word "doofus" is in the dictionary. In mine, it’s defined as "a foolish or inept person." There are apparently some doofuses (doofi?) in the Internal Revenue Service. At least we hope the agents were only foolish or inept and nothing more sinister when they targeted conservative 501(c)(4)s, as they’re called. That’s the section of the regulations that grants "social welfare" groups tax-exempt status as long as their primary mission is not politics.
After denying anything was amiss, the IRS now has admitted that its agents took "absolutely inappropriate" actions to investigate 501(c)(4)s on the right after receiving a flood of applications for the tax-exempt status and after Democrats complained that the organizations were flouting the rules. That’s when the Keystone bureaucrats went into a frenzy. They turned to their computers and plugged in key words like "patriot" and "tea party." And, gee, guess what? Up popped groups like the Tea Party Patriots.
Not surprisingly, the Tea Party Patriots aren’t buying the IRS apology. Jenny Beth Martin, the organization’s national coordinator calls it "the most disturbing, illegal and outrageous abuse of government power." It hasn’t helped that an inspector general report charges that senior officials knew about this nine months before they were assuring Congress there was no targeting.
Everybody and his uncle is demanding an investigation. President Barack Obama joined every Republican in sight, calling the actions "outrageous" and demanding "they have to be held fully accountable." The big problem for the White House will be those who relentlessly seek to make the entire administration accountable, trying to create a narrative that this was more than just another blunder.
It was a lousy week for the Obama peeps. The uproar over harassment by the revenuers came just as emails surfaced giving renewed credence to the GOP’s campaign to fan suspicions of an attempted whitewash in the aftermath of Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi. The ferocious assault left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead. Republicans have been hammering away at the talking points — developed after excruciating negotiations between several agencies — that led U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to go on the Sunday talk shows and declare that the lethal violence was "spontaneously inspired." In fact, the White House had to acknowledge that there was nothing "spontaneous" about it, that it was planned and carried out by extremists. The opposition has been screaming "cover-up" ever since, and their charges were given new fury by both testimony that a Stevens deputy was demoted after complaining and internal emails released by ABC News that suggest the talking points were massaged to deflect political damage in the heated election campaign.
Democrats respond that Republicans are trying to undermine both Obama and potential presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, of course. All this, they say, is actually part of a "witch hunt." Maybe so, but never overlook the possibility that a witch hunt actually might uncover some witches.
At the very least, the administration’s response has been clumsy. Nearly every assertion has caused reporters to remember that old journalistic maxim so appropriate considering it was just Mother’s Day: "If your mom says she loves you, check it out." Just about every answer has raised new questions.
Obama and his people certainly don’t need any self-inflicted wounds. Their adversaries are doing everything they can to sabotage him. The GOP-controlled House vote to repeal Obamacare will be either the 33rd or 38th one, depending on how you count. Efforts to get health-care reform at full speed next year are constantly blocked in the Capitol and in GOP-controlled statehouses around the country.
Gridlock has become the favored Republican strategy. The president and fellow Democrats will be well served if their response is two-fisted and not doofusted.
Bob Franken is a former CNN correspondent. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.