The IRS scandal that is engulfing Capitol Hill is going to burn for a long, long time.

When the story broke last week that the IRS targeted conservative and Tea Party-affiliated groups for undue scrutiny it triggered a tsunami of outrage. Unlike other pseudo-scandals that critics of Washington and President Obama have been peddling, this one has wheels. Conservatives are comparing it to Watergate and calling for President Obama’s impeachment.

While that is typical of the over-the-top reaction that has come to define the toxic nature of today’s politics, there is no denying that the IRS committed a grievous sin when it targeted particular political groups for scrutiny in its audits. What the agency did was flat wrong.

The IRS’s actions undermine the basic trust and sense of fairness we deserve and expect from the federal agency that calculates our taxes. When the IRS can’t be fair and even-handed and engages in improprieties, people lose faith in government.

The White House should immediately launch an independent investigation headed by someone with unimpeachable integrity to get to the bottom of what happened — quickly. People must be held accountable. Heads should roll. More importantly, systems need to be put in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

But regardless of what happens in the wake of this scandal, the damage is already done. The conspiracy theorists, those who believe our government is inherently illegitimate and not to be trusted, are emboldened over this scandal.

And the Tea Party, which had been on the wane, has new life and new purpose.