The storm clouds of "scandal," like a breakout of springtime tornadoes in the South and Midwest, seem to be encircling the White House, with the president having no "safe room" into which to retreat.

But the more I think about the three major issues that have garnered the most attention from the administration's enemies (and now some of its friends), the more I think these controversies may lead us to places where few people - especially the conservative right - want to go.

Conservatives have been trying to conjure up a scandal around Barack Obama for years, and now they are delighted because they believe they have not one, but three that will embroil him so that his second-term agenda will wither from paralysis.

While praying for another Watergate that will lead to further embarrassment for the White House, if not Obama's outright ouster, the president's critics just might find that their usual overreach results in reforms not to their liking.

Let's take each issue in the order they appeared on the public radar.

Benghazi is a sad story involving the death of four Americans during an attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya on Sept. 11, 2012. We've heard a lot of discussion about "talking points" and the president's failure to prevent the attack in the first place, to deploy forces to protect lives once the compound was under siege and to call the attackers "terrorists."

We haven't heard much about the lives that were saved, or the fact that the Benghazi post was more a CIA operation than a diplomatic one. CIA operatives posing as diplomats are nothing new, but that could explain the need for talking points. I'd like to know more about that than the things congressional committees are investigating.

News of the Internal Revenue Service's treatment of some conservative groups is upsetting, and that issue must be dealt with swiftly and forcefully.

But what this controversy has exposed is the apparent misuse of an important part of the tax code. Tax-exempt status under the 501(c)(4) section was intended for "social welfare" organizations. Many nonprofits seeking and receiving that status (both liberal and conservative) are political entities raising money to influence politics without divulging names of their donors. That, along with discrimination by the IRS, needs to end.

I'm most disturbed by the Justice Department's seizure of Associated Press phone records. Although done under the guise of protecting national security to find the source of a damaging leak, this kind of government intrusion into news media operations should not be tolerated.

It's been interesting to watch conservatives feign outrage over government harassment of a member of the "mainstream media," as many of them would never defend the AP or any other news organization they consider a tool of the Obama administration.

Again, there may be good that comes from this scandal. There are new calls for a shield law that would protect journalists from having to turn over notes or reveal confidential sources to government officials. Attorney General Eric Holder is on record in favor of the Free Flow of Information Act, and Obama called last week for such a law to be introduced in the Senate.

I don't know that a shield law would have prevented what happened to the AP, considering the national security angle, but it likely would have provided for a more deliberative process.

My hope is that we can get all of these issues behind us, making necessary changes along the way. Perhaps then our leaders can get on with governing and addressing those other substantive matters that are being neglected.

Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Email:

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