In the Arena

IRS Mess

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County, Md., on May 9, 2013.

The Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups is outrageous. Those who did this should be fired immediately. That’s obvious.

It continues a slovenly week for Barack Obama. The President has been very proud of the absence of scandal in his Administration, and rightly so. The inability of his opponents to find any significant corruption in the historic $800 billion stimulus package was a real achievement, given the speed of the payout. None of his top aides have been caught up in taking bribes while in office — although their race through the revolving door into lucrative private-sector positions is well beyond nauseating.

As in most presidencies, there have been an awful lot of political hacks populating the midreaches of this Administration. In the Obama instance, these have shown an anachronistic, pre-Clinton liberal bias when it comes to the rules and regulations governing many of our safety-net programs, like Social Security disability. And now they have violated one of the more sacred rules of our democracy: you do not use the tax code to punish your opponents.

Lois G. Lerner, the IRS official who oversees tax-exempt groups, said the ‘absolutely inappropriate’ actions by ‘frontline people’ were not driven by partisan motives.

Does anyone actually believe this?

Yet again, we have an example of Democrats simply not managing the government properly and with discipline. This is just poisonous at a time of skepticism about the efficacy of government. And the President should know this: the absence of scandal is not the presence of competence. His unwillingness to concentrate — and I mean concentrate obsessively — on making sure that government is managed efficiently will be part of his legacy.

Previous Presidents, including great ones like Roosevelt, have used the IRS against their enemies. But I don’t think Obama ever wanted to be on the same page as Richard Nixon. In this specific case, he now is.

(Read more from Joe Klein on the IRS scandal.)