The Tax Man Cometh

Posted on March 7, 2014 by


The monster that never sleeps—the Internal Revenue Service.  I am reminded of the phrase in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, written in 1651, which speaks of government as being “that mortal God.”  Its purpose for Hobbes was to “overawe” everyone and bring order.  Well, it looks as if we have a different kind of “mortal God,” one that definitely is not being used just to overawe everyone, but to overawe certain citizens and certain groups who aren’t on the “right side” politically.

In case you have been living on Mars the past couple of years, since about 2010 or before, the IRS has apparently been targeting conservative individuals and groups, announcing unprecedented audits, in some case within a few days of public statements made by those people, asking hundreds of, to say the least, unusual questions, of applicants for non-profit status, including questions such as “what do you pray about?”  These must be really bad groups, eh?   The IRS also dragged its feet for months and years in making decisions about applicants, all the while asking batteries of new and intrusive (and irrelevant) questions.  And finally, it appears to have shared confidential taxpayer information with other agencies—and then invoked its own confidentiality rules to attempt to prevent the injured parties to obtain information about their own information (!).

In the Fall of 2013, Lois Lerner, the head of the relevant office in the IRS, claimed the Fifth Amendment, dealing with self-incrimination, before a congressional committee.  This week, she came before the House of Representatives committee again, only to invoke the Fifth Amendment again and refuse to answer any questions.  In the meantime, it has come to light that Ms. Lerner has been only too willing to talk to the Justice Department investigators, led by a Bill Clinton donor and headed by Eric Holder, a rabid Obama supporter with some baggage of his own.  What do you suppose she might be telling the Justice Department?  And don’t bet anything will come of it, or she would not have been so willing to speak to them.

This situation has all the appearance of a first-rate politically motivated scandal.  Yet, the mainstream news media has shown almost a total disinterest in it—except when it involved an opportunity to bash the Republican committee chairman Darryl Issa as “mean” and “racist” in disallowing Congressman Elijah Cummings to make a public and very ranting statement at the end of the hearing after he had already had the chance to (and did) make an opening statement and was not asking a question.  I personally believe his rant was planned to do damage, and it has, temporarily, taken some focus off the IRS.  But not for long.

So let’s draw some conclusions.  First, if it isn’t evident, the IRS has itself become a political agency, not just collecting taxes but threatening certain political groups the president doesn’t like.  In fact, the IRS is now considering adopting new rules which would make it more difficult for conservative groups and arguably take away their First Amendment rights of free speech. 

Second, the agency epitomizes unelected and unaccountable bureaucratic agencies, which are usually quite slow to do anything, except when they really want do something, almost always at the behest of some political master (or friend).  The only way to deal with such hubris and abuse of authority is to attack it from the outside, with all legal means possible, through the courts and the legislative branches, through lawsuits, through congressional hearings, through contempt proceedings, through statutory action to curb the agency’s power, and through independent congressional investigations with power to subpoena documents.

Third, the news media which still have any courage must stay the course and continue to report the story.  They ought also to doggedly pursue their own investigations.  Where are the Watergate investigators?  Let the media frenzy begin.

Fourth, may I suggest agreement with a few commentators that perhaps it is time to reconsider abolition of the IRS, or at least significant reduction of its authority.  We might do better with a highly simplified tax without the thousands of pages of provisions and impossible-to-understand regulations.  I don’t want to say which kind of tax would be better, though I do have an opinion.  But we do need change.  Of course, I will be accused of utopianism, and probably rightly.  But it is not my job here to tell you what I believe will work politically.

So the next time you get a letter from the IRS asking you questions about your reading habits, ask yourself whether you are a conservative. Likely you are.