This past weekend on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace tossed up a softball for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC): "Senator Graham, you say that President Obama may not have directly ordered the IRS to target conservative groups, but that there was a culture of political manipulation that filtered down from the White House. Explain what you mean." Wallace was describing Bureaucrat Whispering: the increasingly popular conservative theory that President Obama, while not directly involved in the IRS scandal, is still culpable because the tax agency employees subconsciously picked up on his anti-Tea Party vibes.
Wallace then confronted Durbin with a letter the senator wrote in October 2010 that Wallace suggested contributed to "this culture." Durbin defended the letter (a request that the IRS investigate the political activities of non-profit groups like Crossroads GPS) but Wallace was unmoved: "Why not, because we're now in the mess that we are in because of political targeting, why not send a letter that says, go after any group of any political persuasion?" Left unsaid by Wallace was the fact that the IRS began singling out Tea Party groups for scrutiny in March of 2010 -- a full seven months before Durbin sent that letter. That means the cultural ripples caused by Durbin's IRS dispatch would have had to be so potent that they tore the fabric of space-time.
This gets to the core of what Bureaucrat Whispering really is: a catch-all repository for conservatives eager to link the White House to the IRS scandal. It's a theory that can't be proved or disproved; how does one conclusively demonstrate that IRS underlings at a poorly managed office in Cincinnati were swept up in Obama-inspired anti-Tea Party fervor? So conservatives are just throwing whatever bugs them about Obama at the wall and hoping something will stick.
Everything is fair game. The Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassel cited a 2008 letter from Obama's campaign counsel as contributing to "an environment in which the IRS thought this was acceptable." RedState's Erick Erickson threw in a 2008 comment from then-candidate Obama urging supporters to "argue with" neighbors and "get in their face." Reagan DOJ veterans David Rivkin and Lee Casey pointed to the administration's "deep dislike of Citizens United and of the various new conservative groups spawned by the 'tea party' movement" in their own Journal piece. Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote that "President Obama signaled in every way possible that critics were not merely opponents, but were enemies." Included in her indictment against the White House was a quote from Nancy Pelosi.
Counter-chronological examples of the type offered up by Wallace best demonstrate how absurdly capacious this theory is. On May 24, the Washington Examiner published an article asking if an August 2010 remark by then-White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee had triggered the IRS investigation of conservative groups. Again: the whole process began in March 2010. As Slate's Dave Weigel observed: "Unless the Obama administration possessed a time machine -- you never know where that stimulus money went -- Goolsbee's quote couldn't have 'sparked' the investigation."
And really, for conservatives the evidence isn't really necessary because the truth of the matter is self-evident. "There is deep suspicion in some circles that the liberal Obama administration created an atmosphere where far-left zealots in the IRS were basically unsupervised," Bill O'Reilly said on Fox News on May 24. "They could do what they want. That's a hard charge to prove, but there is no question that Mr. Obama's administration is ideological. Thus, suspicions run deep." The suspicion may run deep, but the proof is wafer-thin. In the end, though, proving the allegation is less important than making the allegation over and over until it starts catching on.