Peggy Noonan rides again, this time whining that conservatives were painted and hit by a certain unnamed — possibly Kenyan but we won’t say that — WH executive, or the very least he set the critical arrogant tone (Yet he was somehow also meekly passive, in her wide ranging attack) in the “worst scandal since Watergate”. Her evidence? Four conservatives were audited. Nate Silver points out it was probably a hell of a lot more than four!
538.com — The fact that Ms. Noonan has identified four conservatives from that group of thousands provides no evidence at all toward her hypothesis. Nor would it tell us very much if dozens or even hundreds of conservative activists disclosed that they had been audited. This is exactly what you would expect in a country where there are 1.5 million audits every year. None of this ought to take away from the major part of the I.R.S. scandal — the targeting of conservative groups that applied for 501(c)(4) status, which the I.R.S. has admitted to and for which the statistical evidence is very clear. And evidence could yet emerge that there was targeting of politically active individual taxpayers.
But the principle is important: a handful of anecdotal data points are not worth very much in a country of more than 300 million people. Ms. Noonan, and many other commentators, made a similar mistake last year in their analysis of the presidential election, when they cited evidence like the number of Mitt Romney yard signs in certain neighborhoods as an indication that he was likely to win, while dismissing polls that collectively surveyed hundreds of thousands of voters in swing states and largely showed Mr. Obama ahead.
Nate, you got facts all over Noonan’s bullshit. How dare you! As long as we’re trashing Noonan’s thesis, it’s worth mentioning this IRS deal all occurred under then Commissioner Douglas Shulman, appointed by President George W. Bush in March of 2008 and who served through the 2012 election. But then that would likewise ruin a good wingnut conspiracy theory.
One should never underestimate the power of the conservative noise machine. If anyone doubts that, know that Donald Rumseld is my TV right now elucidating the viewing public on accountability, he has an entire book to pimp on the subject: I shit you not! But over the last few years we have developed some new media counter punches to the stinging Koch-apus tentacles and its many dark hearts. Nate Silver is definitely one of the most effective new voices to come out of that growing progressive caucus.