Obama: I found out Friday that the IRS was targeting conservatives

Via Mediaite, am I understanding this correctly? The IRS began singling out tea partiers for special nonprofit scrutiny nearly three years ago, with senior agency officials aware of the practice in 2011, and no one gave the White House a heads up in all that time — even after tea partiers began complaining, loudly and often, about harassment last year? And even though there have been numerous complaints over the past few years from conservative organizations, most notably the Koch brothers’, about suspicious leaks of confidential tax information? There’s been a lot of smoke here for a long time. If — if — the White House didn’t know there was a fire, seems like maybe that was because they were determined not to find out. Once the news broke, especially if it had broken before the presidential election (why didn’t it, anyway?), their only defense would be absolute, even deliberate, ignorance. That’s how you play things when you’re running the most accountable administration ever.

Ross Douthat wonders where the IRS might have gotten the idea that it was okay to go after tea-party groups:

I’m willing to guess this much: Even though an American Civil Liberties Union official described their excessive interest in right-wing groups as “about as constitutionally troubling as it gets,” the bureaucrats in question probably thought they were just doing their patriotic duty, and giving dangerous extremists the treatment they deserved.

Where might an enterprising, public-spirited I.R.S. agent get the idea that a Tea Party group deserved more scrutiny from the government than the typical band of activists seeking tax-exempt status? Oh, I don’t know: why, maybe from all the prominent voices who spent the first two years of the Obama era worrying that the Tea Party wasn’t just a typically messy expression of citizen activism, but something much darker — an expression of crypto-fascist, crypto-racist rage, part Timothy McVeigh and part Bull Connor, potentially carrying a wave of terrorist violence in its wings.

Remember all the concern-trolling from the left after the Tucson shooting about conservatives’ “tone”? The point of the “tone” argument was to get around the inconvenient fact that no one on the right had called for any sort of violence against Gabby Giffords; in order to lay that in conservatives’ lap, they had to argue that the right’s general tone was sufficient to start a rampage, even though there wasn’t a shred of evidence produced that political rhetoric inspired Jared Loughner. This is the “tone” argument blowing up in their faces. Even if no one in the White House ordered the IRS to harass tea partiers, why isn’t the left’s tone in demagoging grassroots conservative groups as some sort of proto-militia partly to blame for inspiring the IRS to overzealousness? Why isn’t their tone towards other kinds of politically disfavored organizations also a factor in what appears to be improper disclosure of confidential tax info?

By the way, just to update this morning’s post, Joe Klein would like you to know that the IRS’s behavior may be wrong but not nearly as wrong as Republicans’ attempts to obstruct business in Washington by … investigating the wrongdoing. Evidently that’s the “real scandal” here. Actual quotation: “What is more dangerous to our democracy, the Obama Administration’s massaging of its mistakes or the Republicans’ constant campaign to paralyze our government through diversions like these?”