I’m surprised to see the IRS scandal still kicking around the news. Usually our collective attention span of a 2-year old would have dropped out and sent us looking to see what Kanye West is ranting about or if Jennifer Aniston is finally decided to settle down. But lo and behold, a New York Times article today highlights some of the non-profits that were targeted by the IRS. Looks like this story might have a little time left. I give it a week.
In many cases it seems like some of the organizations deserved the scrutiny they got from the IRS. In particular, the Wetumka Tea Party of Alabama who, according to the Times, “sponsored training for a get-out-the-vote initiative dedicated to the “defeat of President Barack Obama”
Sounds partisan to me. But all of the press over the IRS scandal has focused more on the effects than the cause. First of all, there’s the Citizens United decision that opened up political campaigns to a flood of untraceable money. And with the inception of the 501C(4) -non-profits that classify themselves as “social welfare” groups rather than charities- it was clear that there was going to be lots of new organizations looking for tax exemptions.
It appears that the IRS couldn’t handle the amount of new organizations applying for tax exempt status. The IRS did what all we Americans do; It looked for the easy way out. They set up an algorithm that would flag organization if their applications contained certain words, such as “liberty”, “patriot”, and “bratwurst”. You get the idea.
Obviously the technique was deeply flawed and many of the groups caught up in the snag happened to be right-leaning social welfare groups, many of them linked with the Tea Party. Since we have a Democratic president in office, it makes sense that there would be more groups on the defense establishing new organizations.
Yet the whole thing is, surprise surprise, being treated as a conspiracy to silence opponents of the president. Anybody who was around for the last election and saw the barrage of attack ads on both sides can conclude that the president did a pretty poor job of silencing his critics. I can’t go a single day without hearing criticism of the president. He’s become the whipping boy for the entire country. Locked your keys out of your car? Blame Obama. Fight with your wife? Blame Obama. The point is that if he’s trying to silence his critics, Obama the Silencer has done a worse job than Obama the President.
But really the problem comes down to 2 causes: Government mismanagement and partisan politics.
It strikes me funny when the same people who say that government doesn’t work can also claim that the government is capable of pulling off this kind of grand conspiracy. This is a government that can’t even pass a budget. Do you really think that they would be able to coordinate a mass conspiracy intended to smear the president’s opponents? And all of this without somebody talking to the media, writing a book or appearing on a radio show? Look, everybody has a price. It’s guaranteed that if this was all a conspiracy, somebody would have talked. It’s the same point that’s always turned me off by 9/11 Truthers.
It seems much likely to assume that the IRS is mismanaged just like everything else. They’re government workers after all, not comic book criminals. They care about bringing a paycheck home and that’s about it, just like most of you. With that lack of care, you have mistakes and you have shortcuts, just like every bullshit office job. And here you have your grand conspiracy.
But the bigger issue is partisan politics themselves. Political parties used to be more fluid, with some crossover. It wasn’t such a strange thing to see pro-life Democrats or Republicans who supported welfare. In fact, if you look at the political positions of a Republican like Richard Nixon, who established the EPA and proposed universal healthcare, we would cast them off as socialists. And remember, Democrats at one time supported slavery.
Now, issues are owned by political parties. If you think that the government spends too much, you’re lumped into the Republican camp and now, by association, oppose gay marriage, abortion and any other pet issues. If you support a robust safety net for the poor, you must be a Democrat and you must believe the opposite of the Republicans.
Because of this issue ownership, a group can’t be apolitical. If you’re an organization looking to expand the safety net, you must be aligned with the Democrats. If you’re looking to reduce the deficit, you’re Republican aligned.
Sometimes it seems like our political system is a game of football. Making the country stronger isn’t the focus, but rather strategy and branding. In the end the people running our country are just like those IRS workers, looking for a paycheck. That’s the conspiracy.