American citizens should never fear their own government. It’s Un-American. The Declaration of Independence directed our Founders to organize government powers “in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” We should be able to go to bed at night feeling safe from hostile pounding on the door. The concept of the home as a safe refuge has been a key principle of Western Civilization going all the way back to the Roman Republic.
For the most part, our homes are safe havens from physical intrusion by agents of the government. This doesn’t mean we can reside comfortably in “safety and happiness.” The government now attacks its citizens with a #10 envelope. Washington feels far off until we come across a letter from the Internal Revenue Service.
Suddenly, we are no longer safe in our homes.
The clog-stomping IRS panics most Americans. How much trepidation should you feel when you spy an official IRS envelope? It may depend on whether you’ve been expressing views that run counter to the proper way of thinking. The Congressional Ways and Means Committee reported that the IRS audited nearly 10% of taxpayers who contribute to a Tea Party group. Nationally, less than 1% of taxpayers suffer audits. One of the inappropriate activities called out by the inspector general included IRS requests for Tea Party donor lists. It appears the IRS put these lists to bad use.
Many high-profile conservatives have been audited, including Dr. Ben Carson soon after he spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast and courageously challenged President Obama’s leadership. However, Wayne Root may be the only one with evidence that politics motivated his audit. Judicial Watch obtained his IRS files under the Freedom of Information Act and the dossier revealed that a Democratic senator initiated the audit, and handwritten notations showed that the IRS had investigated Root’s political writings and television appearances. Root’s transgression? He was President Obama’s classmate at Columbia and a severe critic of his administration and “transparency.” As if to prove the latter point, the IRS stalled in complying with the FOIA request for 14 months, despite a law that required a 30-day response. It’s not a mystery why the agency stalled. Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, wrote, “These documents show the Obama IRS scandal was more than just suppressing the Tea Party, it was also about auditing critics of President Obama.”
And what about that IRS targeting scandal? It doesn’t get much attention anymore. On the second anniversary of the inspector general’s report, Cleta Mitchell wrote an opinion piece for the May 15, 2015 edition of the Wall Street Journal. Instead of a progress report, “How Congress Botched the IRS Probe” lamented the lack of consequences for wrongdoers. Unlawful targeting of selected organizations, audits of vocal critics, perjury before congress, loss of two-years’ worth of email records, IRS employees cheating on their taxes, and insolently shoddy cover-ups. The result? Promotions, rehiring, and performance bonuses. Lois Lerner, who was found in contempt of congress, suffered no penalty because the Justice Department refused to act on the citation. This is “in your face” defiance of oversight. Perhaps it all went away because President Obama dismissed the inspector general’s findings of malfeasance by simply stating that there was “not even a smidgeon of corruption” at the Internal Revenue Service.
In case you think this is all ancient history, The Washington Times reported less than a month ago that nine tea party groups are still awaiting IRS approval for nonprofit status.
These IRS scandals do not represent executive overreach, they reflect an abuse of power. And a grievous example at that. The Framers did their best to protect us from abuse of power, but they depended on limited government and checks and balances to restrain politicians’ worst impulses. Unfortunately, Congress can’t seem to figure out how to use its assigned powers to reign in executive overreach. They’re nonplussed by their rivals’ audacity, and congressional leadership seems intimidated by media and special interest criticism.
There remains another check on abuse of power: We the people. It’s up to us to buck up our politicians and remind them that they represent us, not the vocal denizens inside the beltway. We hired them, and we can fire them. They need frequent reminding. As Dean Martin used to say, “Keep those cards and letters coming in.”
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