"Horrible customer service." That's what the newly fired IRS commissioner averred was the agency's only sin in singling out conservative political groups for discriminatory treatment.
In such grim proceedings one should be grateful for unintended humor. Horrible customer service is when every patron in a restaurant finds a fly in his soup. But when the maitre d' screens patrons for their politics and only conservatives find flies paddle-wheeling through their consommé, the problem is not poor service. It is harassment and invidious discrimination.
Yet both the acting and the previous IRS commissioners insisted that the singling out of groups according to politics was in no way politically motivated. More hilarity. It's definitional: If you discriminate according to politics, your discrimination is political.
The IRS says this classification was for efficiency, to cut down on overwork. Ridiculous. How does demanding answers to endless intrusive and irrelevant questions, creating mountains of unnecessary paperwork for both applicant and IRS, reduce workload?
We are further asked to believe that a cadre of Cincinnati GS-11s is a hotbed of radical-left activism in America. Is anyone stupid enough to believe that?
That's why the IRS scandal has legs. And because pulling the myriad loose ends of this improbable tale will be the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Democrat Max Baucus. So much for any reflexive administration charge of a partisan witch hunt.
On Wednesday, however, the issue was in the hands of the House Oversight Committee. It allowed Lois Lerner, the IRS official who had already apologized for targeting tea-party groups, to read an opening statement claiming total innocence. She then refused, on grounds of self-incrimination, to answer any questions.
Perhaps not wanting to appear overbearing, Chairman Darrell Issa gave her a pass, pending legal advice on whether she had forfeited her Fifth Amendment shield by making a statement.
Lerner's performance may not have endeared her to the average viewer. Her arrogance reminded anyone who needed reminding why the IRS is so unloved.
Does the IRS scandal go all the way up to the top? As of now, doubtful. It's nearly inconceivable that anyone would be stupid enough to have given such a politically fatal directive from the White House (although admittedly the bar is rapidly falling).
But when some bureaucrat is looking for cues from above, it matters when the president of the United States denounces the Supreme Court decision that allowed the proliferation of 501(c)4s and specifically calls the resulting "special interest groups" running ads to help Republicans "not just a threat to Democrats - that's a threat to our democracy."
That's especially telling when it comes amid letters from Democratic senators to the IRS urging aggressive scrutiny of 501(c)4 applications.
A White House can powerfully shape other perceptions as well. For years the administration has conducted a concerted campaign to demonize Fox News, delegitimizing it as a news organization, even urging its ostracism. Then (surprise!) its own Justice Department takes the unprecedented step of naming a Fox reporter a co-conspirator in a leak case - when no reporter has ever been prosecuted for merely soliciting information - to invade his and Fox's private and journalistic communications.
It's not unlawful to run an ad hominem presidency. It's merely shameful. The great rhetorical specialty of this president has been his unrelenting attribution of bad faith to those who disagree with him. He acts on principle; they from the basest of instincts.
Well then, why not harass them? Why not ask the content of their prayers? Why not read their email? Why not give them especially horrible customer service?
Waiter! There's a fly ...
Email Charles Krauthammer at email@example.com