Peggy Noonan hears a dog whistle

How desperate is GOP? It now fantasizes that Obama’s campaign was a coded order to the IRS to target the Tea Party

Published May 20, 2013 11:45AM (EDT)

Here’s the best evidence the GOP knows the IRS scandal doesn’t reach into the White House: Now they’re saying they don’t need to find evidence that President Obama directed or even knew about the investigation of Tea Party groups’ non-profit status; his actively campaigning for reelection represented a “dog whistle” to tell the agency to target his political enemies.

The dog whistle quote came via NBC's “Meet the Press” Sunday from Peggy Noonan, who can no longer be taken seriously as a writer or pundit. When host David Gregory pressed her on the lack of evidence for her claims that the IRS scandal was worse than Watergate, Noonan insisted that the president “was giving a dog whistle to people who could launch this thing." The former Reagan-Bush speechwriter vividly summed up, in her thousand points of crazy style, where the IRS “scandal” went over the last few days: Obama didn’t need to order the tax agency to harass Tea Party groups (and his critics don’t need proof that he did so): his criticizing the group during the 2012 campaign, as well as blasting the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, represented an implicit order to do so.

That argument was put less vividly, thought a bit more coherently, by Noonan’s right-wing Wall Street Journal colleague Kim Strassel. “Was the White House involved in the IRS's targeting of conservatives?” Strassel asked Friday.  Predictably she answered “Of course it was.” Her evidence? Well, in the post-Watergate world, you’re not going to find evidence, Strassel explains:

Mr. Obama didn't need to pick up the phone. All he needed to do was exactly what he did do, in full view, for three years: Publicly suggest that conservative political groups were engaged in nefarious deeds; publicly call out by name political opponents whom he'd like to see harassed; and publicly have his party pressure the IRS to take action.

Get it? By publicly criticizing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, as well as the right-wing groups that rushed to take advantage of the ruling, Obama was putting in motion the IRS investigation. That’s Noonan’s “dog whistle” – an executive order that only IRS agents could hear. Oh: IRS agents, and Peggy Noonan.

Of course, if the term “dog whistle” sounds familiar, that’s because it’s historically been used to describe an ugly brand of American politics in which blatant racial appeals and racist slurs evolved into a new genteel conservative code. Right-wingers stopped using the N-word and other epithets, and talking openly about the inferiority of black people, and instead began railing against crime, welfare, taxes and affirmative action.

Or as top dog whistler Lee Atwater infamously put it in 1981:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

How ingenious of Peggy Noonan to turn around and accuse our first black president of playing “dog whistle” politics.

It’s wrong to dignify Noonan with too much attention. “Meet the Press” host David Gregory made her look silly on Sunday, although one still questions why she is constantly invited on the show. That “dog whistle” Noonan said she heard is exactly like the “vibrations” she felt that told her Nov. 5 that Mitt Romney was going to win: They’re both imaginary. And that’s sad – for Peggy Noonan.

Meanwhile, the president’s approval rating has climbed since the right began its Scandalgate assault. I’m not going to promise that will continue. But I will promise that mainstream media figures like Noonan, Bob Woodward and of course Jonathan Karl who've shamed themselves over the last 10 days are in worse shape than Obama. If only we could vote them out.

By Joan Walsh