RATIONAL Americans balk at thinking the worst of their government. Surely, they reason, the people with whom I disagree mean well.
They wouldn't actually try to suppress my political views.
The Internal Revenue Service's acknowledgement that it did selectively scrutinize conservative organizations that wanted to engage in political commentary has blown Americans' trust in government to smithereens.
Some people, it turns out, really don't mean well.
That deserves thorough explanation and correction.
Even more troubling is the cluelessness defense - that nobody at the top knew anything about it, that President Obama found out only when it made the news - and that thus nobody is accountable for this affront.
For the moment, I'm sticking with the get-to-the-bottom-of-this camp, hoping that at least one of the five separate government investigations will tell us exactly what happened.
But there are flags down all over the field, and there have been for a long time.
Kimberly Strassel of The Wall Street Journal wrote that attempts to suppress the conservative vote began as early as 2008.
"In early August 2008, the New York Times trumpeted the creation of a left-wing group (a 501(c)4) called Accountable America," she wrote. "Founded by Obama supporter and liberal activist Tom Mattzie, the group - as the story explained - would start by sending 'warning' letters to 10,000 GOP donors, 'hoping to create a chilling effect that will dry up contributions.
"The letters would alert 'right-wing groups to a variety of potential dangers, including legal trouble, public exposure and watchdog groups digging through their lives.'"
He told Mother Jones [magazine]: "We're going to put them at risk."
Of intrusive investigation and prosecution by government?
Catherine Engelbright, founder of True the Vote, a conservative election monitoring organization, sought tax-exempt status in 2010. Two years later, she still had no response from the IRS.
But, she told NBC News, the IRS had audited her personal and business taxes for the first time, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had inspected her business.
Engelbright is suing the IRS.