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Monday, November 20, 2017

Holder recused himself from the case and the White House, which is, in effect, a subject of the investigation, can plausibly claim it was unaware of the decision.

Nonetheless, liberals have reason to contest the Obama administration on civil liberties questions. What’s entertaining is to watch so many Republicans (let’s exempt the consistent libertarians) reverse a decade of hardline positions on national security matters and speak now as if they were card-carrying members of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Then there is the IRS’ targeting of Tea Party groups for special scrutiny in applications for 501(c)(4) status. Of course this was wrong — and stupid. Liberals were incensed when the IRS questioned the tax status of several progressive groups during the Bush administration. The IRS needs to be ultra-scrupulous about political neutrality, period. That’s why Obama came out late Wednesday to announce a shake-up at the agency.

But the other scandal — as The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein and Ruth Marcus and MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell have all suggested — is that any groups involved in partisan electioneering are being granted standing as “social welfare” organizations, allowing them to hide the identity of their donors. A bad mistake could compound the IRS’ timidity on the 501(c)(4) issue.

And finally, Benghazi, the “scandal” that seems to be all smoke and no gun. The House could have spent its energy trying to figure out what led to this tragedy, why diplomats were in such a dangerous place, and how to protect brave Foreign Service officers in the future. Congress could even ask itself if it’s providing enough money for the task. But focusing on the narrow concern of who did what to a set of talking points (and bloviating about this episode as a new “Watergate”) takes what could be a legitimate inquiry and turns it into a political carnival.

I know, I know: This “confluence” of “scandals” spells “trouble” for the Obama administration. Well, sure, this has been hell week for the president. But what spells trouble for our country is our apparent eagerness to avoid debate about discrete problems by sacrificing the particulars and the facts to the idol of political narrative. It’s a false god.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File