Sunday, June 09, 2013

When the guardians have become corrupt

I have been writing for a living since I was a college student in the 1950s--and writers, as you might guess, are prime candidates for an audit by the Internal Revenue Service. In 1964, for example, I bought a ticket to Saigon and spent several months in the puckerbrush with American advisors, helicopter crews, and Special Forces teams. My income for the year didn't quite total the cost of the round-trip ticket on Pan Am, and the IRS wanted to know why... There were three of these encounters altogether, the most recent having to do with my 2011 tax return. Really, I never minded these intrusions, though they have become increasingly expensive. (That first one ended when the IRS agent bundled my records back into their folder, advisedme to keep more receipts next time and thanked me for coming over.) I would have laughed at anyone who suggested that our Internal Revenue Service, which raises the trillions of dollars each year to keep our government more or less functioning, was anything less than honorable.

To be sure, there was that brief episode with Richard Nixon, who evidently tried to unleash the IRS upon his political enemies. But hey! Nobody trusted Mr. Nixon in the first place, and in short order we ran him out of office, though of course we let him keep his pension.

But now we have Barack Obama, whom everybody seems to trust, yet who for years has been sending dog whistles to the federal bureaucracy to the effect that right-wing advocacy groups don't deserve the privileges according to advocacy groups on the left. Just in case anyone in the IRS might miss the point, Democratic senators and representatives actually put that same idea on paper and mailed it to the IRS. What's a bureaucrat to do when pressured by the president and the congress, especially if he voted for the party in power as a majority of our federal bureaucrats surely have done?

So now we live in a nation whose most powerful bureaucracy has been corrupted. (If you doubt it, read Saturday's interview with Cleta Mitchell in the Wall Street Journal.) The IRS has been targeting these right-wing groups for years, and it has been lying to us for years about its abuse of power. We have all seen Lois Lerner of the Cincinnati office assure Congress that she has done nothing wrong, and in the next breath take the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. Even the Mafia thugs who once made a joke of "Taking the Fifth" at least had the dignity not to preface it with a declaration of their innocence!

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service is corrupt. That we can take for granted. But where do we go from here? What hope is there for a country whose guardians assess taxes on the basis of the citizens' political views? What hope is there for a country whose elected president who would not only permit, but actively encourage, such an abuse of power?

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