I’ve been pretty consistently discussing the IRS “scandal” as largely a bait-and-switch: the deliberate conflation of a delay in the conferral of a tax subsidy for organizations wanting to engage in campaigns and hide donors with aggressive IRS tactics towards individual citizens that can result in financial ruin or jail. The complexity and obscurity of the whole tax-exempt political organization issue–which about ten people in the whole country really understand–has made this possible, along with some abundant partisan bad will.

But when’s the last time we saw this sort of phenomenon on a large scale: exploitation of understandable public ignorance on a big and complex topic to create wildly demagogic claims? Esquire‘s Charles Pierce nails it:

The IRS dumbassery is going to be the new “death panels.” People are going to argue on the radio, and on the TV, and in congressional town halls in the hinterlands, that the IRS is going to “enforce Obamacare” by doing to sick conservatives what they did to all those poor social-welfare organizations with the tricornered hats and the flintlocks….

The idea that the IRS will have the power to withhold medical care from conservatives — in other words, it is going to have the power to kill through neglect a president’s political opponents — is going to be a serious part of our national dialogue going forward, and it is going to be based in some bureaucratic dumbassery through which some paperwork was delayed and some groups were inconvenienced in their attempts to get in on a really cool campaign-finance scam. People are going to nod sagely and debate the fact that, perhaps, the “concerns” are overstated but that they are “out there” and worthy of our consideration. And the country’s IQ will drop proportionally.

So to the extent that the Obamacare angle seems likely to become the new front in the “IRS scandal,” it’s actually even worse than a recurrence of the “death panel” outrage. It’s one manufactured scandal meeting another. I now wonder if Michele Bachmann’s retirement announcement was less a matter of retreating in the face of political adversity and legal trouble, than of liberating her from campaign pressures to engage full-time in the paranoid opportunity of a lifetime to flog these interconnected “scandals.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.