The IRS controversy falls into a different category. It isn’t entirely clear how much the White House knew or should have known about the singling out of conservative groups for extra scrutiny. That question still is being sorted out, though it appears Treasury Department officials knew last year that an inspector general was studying the IRS, without knowing exactly what he was finding.
But the broader problem lies elsewhere. The IRS flap eats away at the underpinnings of what President Barack Obama promised when he first ran in 2008: a revival of confidence that government is capable of solving problems in a smart and nonideological manner.