Sea of troubles for President Obama

President Barack Obama steps off stage after speaking at a Democratic Party fundraiser at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, 13 May 2013 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Barack Obama can try to distance himself - but opponents already have the smell of blood

President Obama and his administration have moved swiftly to put as much distance between themselves and this shocker of a scandal.

Look at the words he's used: "outrageous", "intolerable", "inexcusable", and if you didn't get it, "wrong".

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is "deeply troubled" and has "zero tolerance" for behaviour that is "inappropriate" and "unacceptable".

They are right to come out hard and fast. For one arm of the government to target its most vociferous opponents is the sort of thing that happens in dodgy banana republics and failing democracies.

Although the IRS commissioner has denied any staff acted out of partisan motives, political critics are doubtful.

This, and the raid on the AP, will confirm the belief of Mr Obama's opponents that this is an overweening administration dedicated to trampling on the freedoms of the American people. Whatever language the president uses, they will believe that somehow he was behind it.

His political enemies are turning up the heat. I have already received one email from a Tea Party group, using it to drum up campaign funds. One senator has compared Mr Obama to disgraced former President Richard Nixon, and claimed the rot starts at the top. He won't be the last.

It is explosive ordnance for his enemies. The reason he has had to be so firm, so quick, is that if he allows it to fester, as he has with scandals in the past, it will seep into the general public imagination, and seriously harm his administration's image.

He has to establish, from the top down, to Democrats as well as others, that this is not an occasion to score party points - it is a national scandal which needs to be roundly condemned by everyone.

That may mean some of the worst odour slides off. But mud does stick. It is a bad week for the president.

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