"It's an interesting case study, right," former President Obama adviser David Axelrod told the crew of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Wednesday, "because if you look at the inspector general's report, apparently some folks down in the bureaucracy, ya know -- we have a large government -- took it upon themselves to shorthand these applications for tax-exempt status in a way that, as I said, was idiotic."
Axelrod has since been proven wrong about his assertion that the IRS' targeting of conservative nonprofits was limited to two low-level employees in Cincinnati, but he is absolutely right that the IRS scandal is a great case study of our "large government."
"Part of being president," Axelrod continued, "is there is so much beneath you that you can't know because the government is so vast."
Exactly! The federal government is already so big that the president of the United States, the man whose sole job is to run the executive branch, can't possibly be expected to know about everything it does.
Was the IRS targeting the president's political enemies? Obama doesn't know.
Was the security at the Benghazi, Libya, diplomatic mission too lax? Obama doesn't know.
Was the Department of Justice's seizure of Associated Press phone records too intrusive? Obama doesn't know.
Did the EPA waive fees for liberal groups seeking information while still charging conservatives? Obama doesn't know.
Did the Department of Health and Human Services improperly solicit money from the health insurance companies it regulates to help implement Obamacare? Obama doesn't know.
Are the General Services Administration or other federal departments and agencies still wasting taxpayer dollars on extravagant Las Vegas conferences? Obama doesn't know.
Did the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms improperly sell guns to Mexican drug cartels? Obama doesn't know.
Did Department of Energy employees improperly rework Solyndra's government-subsidized loan, costing taxpayers millions when the company eventually went bankrupt? Obama doesn't know.
As distressing as all of this governmental ignorance is, imagine that you are a voter who wants to hold the federal government accountable. Who can you punish for all this bad behavior?
You can't vote out the IRS commissioner, or the GSA administrator or the special agent in charge of the Phoenix ATF field office. You only get one vote. Up or down on the president of the United States. That is our only chance to reward or punish good and bad executive branch behavior. It is a bit of a blunt instrument.
That is why we must limit the federal government to its core functions. If it does too much, it becomes impossible to hold it accountable when it starts doing things badly.
Take garbage collection, for instance. Some governments, mostly cities, provide garbage service. Others, mostly suburbs and rural areas, don't. If I live in a suburb and I get bad garbage service, I can fire one provider and switch to another. But if I live in a city, I can't. My only redress is to vote out the mayor or city council.
Now there may be other reasons that government-provided garbage service makes sense for a city (public health, for example). But a city government's responsibilities are limited enough that voters can hold leadership accountable if they fail to provide proper sanitation services.
But that accountability becomes much harder at higher levels of government. There are just too many other things going on. Government-provided trash service would make no sense at the state or federal level.
The same goes for much, but not all, of what the federal government does today. Should a president be worrying about security at diplomatic posts in violent countries? Absolutely. National security is one of the federal government's core functions.
Should a president be worrying about whether or not taxpayer dollars are properly invested in the right energy companies? Not so much.
The myriad scandals currently drowning the White House are not just an indictment of Obama's leadership. They are, more importantly, an indictment of the liberal view of an expansive federal government.
The American people simply have too little control over the federal bureaucracy to trust that it will properly manage large sectors of the economy like health care, education or agriculture.
The bigger government gets, the harder it is to hold anyone accountable. That is the one lesson all Americans should take from the Obama scandals.
Conn Carroll (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @conncarroll.