The power to tax is the power to destroy. You can now add to that the IRS’ ability to selectively delay applicants based on their political leanings. The past couple of weeks have been a PR disaster for the White House and a boon for the Republicans, and that does not even include the Benghazi hearings, a 37th attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the AP wiretaps. Even so, and even with the recent scandals erupting all over the Obama administration, the IRS scandal is the only one with real staying power because it can so directly impact politics and elections.
The IRS scandal is troubling because the IRS should be a nonpartisan and unbiased agency. The IRS should not have flagged certain names (i.e. patriot) and unnecessarily delayed their applications. Republicans are outraged, as they should be. President Obama should be outraged, and he is. Everybody should be outraged, lest this set a precedent and happens to their organization, whatever its political affiliation.
What is the most troubling is that the precedent for IRS harassment already exists. PETA alleged IRS harassment during George W. Bush’s presidency. So too did the NCAAP, simply because the organization condemned George W Bush’s policies. Time Magazine reports a long history of abuse for political ends, including Presidents Kennedy and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Nixon. If Republicans or Tea Partiers were truly outraged at IRS overreach, where was the outrage then?
In the short-run, the IRS scandal makes for some very good political theater that will test the Obama Administration for months to come, precisely because the scandal resonates with a swatch of the population obsessed with tax and government overreach. For me, however, the true test will be how well this and future administrations build a political firewall and ensure the IRS breaks from the past and becomes a truly nonpartisan agency. Until that happens, it won’t be just the power to tax that can destroy.
Time’s Swampland, Washington Examiner, and Washington Post contributed to this blog.