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American public responds to 'scandals' with yawn

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Absent important new revelations, the trio of scandals puffed up by Washington Republicans look likely to wash through the political system like a jolt of adrenalin, changing little if anything in the long term.

For example, according to a CNN poll released over the weekend, 53 percent of Americans approve of the job being done by the Obama administration, up from 51 percent in April.  Forty-five percent disapprove. That stability mirrors findings by Gallup (50/43, largely unchanged) and Rasmussen (49/49 percent also largely unchanged), suggesting that Obama's standing with the public has not been tarnished.

You also see that reality reflected in pleas by Republican leaders and pundits to GOP backbenchers and their base, urging them not to overreact or put too much emphasis on the alleged scandals. When the wiser heads on the right look at the situation rationally, they understand that controversies involving Benghazi, the IRS and the AP leak investigation just aren't what they might wish them to be, and they don't want to see the party once again get caught up in a whirlwind of its own rhetoric.

On the other hand, politics is not an entirely rational business, as you might have noticed. There's a temptation to play to the crowd, to tell people what they want to hear and bask in that approval. For example, in a speech to the Georgia GOP's state convention in Athens last weekend, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson blistered the IRS.

“It’s an organization that’s run amuck," he told the crowd, drawing cheers. "It’s an organization that’s systemically corrupt, it’s an organization that must be brought to its knees and held accountable for the abuse of power that it has done."

Based on what we know so far, the IRS would seem to be an organization systemically overwhelmed, rather than corrupt. However, telling conservatives that they're victims of an overworked bureaucracy is so much less appealing than telling them that they've been targeted by the evil, overweening President Obama, just as they always thought.

Appearing on CNN this weekend, Sen. Rand Paul even announced the existence of a written IRS policy that instructed agents to target enemies of the president. If true, that would certainly elevate the issue. Yet when pressed, Paul was forced to acknowledge that he has only heard mere rumors of such a policy, from vague quarters that he could not or would not specify.

It's a familiar phenomenon. These scandals seem to have a mirage-like quality to them, with Obama opponents making repeated factual claims that vanish upon closer inspection. No rescue forces were told to stand down at Benghazi, the CIA really did believe at first that the attack began with protests, and to date, Paul's conspiratorial imagination notwithstanding, there is no indication that the IRS scandal involves anything more than a stupid choice by underlings who did not comprehend the serious implications of their decision.

Yes, that's boring. But it also appears to be the truth.

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