This is no impromptu strategy for Barack Obama’s campaign wizard, David Axelrod, trotted out under fire on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday. Another Obama insider, David Plouffe, was sent to ABC’s This Week to make the same argument. Axelrod and Plouffe both tried to brush off the IRS scandal as an unfortunate set of coincidences by arguing that a deliberate effort to punish conservatives through the IRS would be “the stupidest thing you could have imagined” (Axelrod) or “the dumbest political effort of all time.” First, here’s Axelrod:
Representative Marsha Blackburn apparently thought Axelrod missed the point of the scandal. “The problem with this is, they were going after the conservative groups and not after liberal groups,” Blackburn said. “So there was a targeting mechanism that was built into that. And then individuals, conservative individuals that seem to be going after. It is the IRS using their position for political intimidation.”
“I think it was an idiotic thing to do,” Axelrod said. “But I will point you to the Inspector General’s report that said it wasn’t done for a political reason. They were flooded with applications.”
“That’s tough to swallow,” Republican strategist Ana Navarro said. “When you’re a Republican, it’s hard to swallow that it wasn’t done for political reasons, when the words chosen for target words were conservative, tea party…It’s very easy for your side to say it isn’t political. It’s very hard for our side to accept it when we’re the ones being targeted.”
“If there was somebody political involved in this, it never would have happened,” Axelrod said, “because it was the stupidest thing you could have imagined.”
And now Plouffe:
“Please,” Rove said. “[Crossroads’] leadership knew right from the get-go that they were going to be looked at, closely. So the laws and rules that the IRS has promulgated for decades were followed very closely by GPS for exactly that. They knew there was going to be extra scrutiny.”
“I think it’s the same problem with the left,” Huffington said.
“You know what?” Rove said. “You’re the first person I’ve heard on the left say that. These groups, 501(c)(4) groups, have been active for years on the Democratic side, on the liberal side, and there has been no criticism. There was no criticism from the left in 2000 when the NAACP voter fund spent $10 million to run an ad accusing George Bush of being a bigot. No concern on the left when Americans United for Change ran television ads targeting Republican senators up for reelection in 2007, 2008 over the Iraq surge!”
“Back in the prior administration,” countered former White House advisor David Plouffe, “the NAACP was investigated, after Republican members of Congress asked for it.”
“The Inspector General looked at this,” Plouffe continued, “and said there was no politics involved in this. No one has indicated, at all, that the White House was involved. The IRS Director, was appointed under President Bush, served under both presidents, testified. This was not a political pursuit.”
“Baloney,” Rove said. “If it was not political, why were only conservative groups targeted?”
“Liberal groups were targeted,” Plouffe said.
“Name one!” Rove screamed. “Name one! What liberal group had tea party or patriot in its name that it was targeted? Not a single liberal group has appeared to say—”
“You’re taking a broad license here, Karl. This was not an effort driven by the White House. It would be the dumbest political effort of all time.”
Jim Geraghty writes that the incompetence defense seems to be pretty popular in this administration, but that it’s nearly as effective as the White House seems to think:
Gentlemen… the “we’re stupid” excuse really isn’t as exculpatory as you think it is.
Actually, at least in this instance, Axelrod and Plouffe are arguing the opposite. They are claiming in both appearances that political corruption at the IRS would be so stupid/dumb that no one in an administration would attempt it. They both want people to believe that the problem here is lack of involvement by the White House is what created the situation at the IRS, because if the White House had been aware of it, they would have seen the political danger and put a stop to it immediately.
That, of course, depends on a couple of assumptions. First, they’d have to assume they’d get caught. So far, no one at the IRS or the White House seem prepared for that possibility, and their apologists are still out trying to make the case that this isn’t corruption at all.
But second is that politicians dont do stupid things even at the highest levels of government. The last President who found himself in serious trouble over using the IRS to target political opponents was Richard Nixon. Nixon ended up resigning after it came out that his administration was connected to a break-in at a Democratic campaign headquarters in Washington DC even though he was perched to win one of the largest landslides in presidential election history just a few months later, participated in a cover-up of the break-in, taped all of his Oval Office conversations, and kept the tapes.
Now, which of those actions wasn’t the stupidest/dumbest move of all time?