Yes, There Really Was a Partisan Political Witch Hunt
It has been a while since I could get a full blog post out. My apologies; work has demanded my full attention for several weeks now. It hasn’t lessened too much, but I am enjoying a little bit of a breather.
During that time, I abortively started a post on the IRS “scandal” at least a few times. Each time it seemed to be less and less likely that the scandal was a scandal at all. Each time I sat down to address the issue, there was more and more evidence that this, like Benghazi, was indeed a political witch hunt—just by conservatives against Obama, and not the other way around.
The first clue: Republicans said it was a scandal of monumental proportions. This tends to be a fairly good indicator of a non-scandal. Conservatives have been attempting to smear the administration with something since he started running for president. Any time anything comes along, it’s supposed to be The Thing That Takes Obama Down. How many “Obama’s 9/11”s have we seen? How many “Obama’s Katrina”s? How many “Obama’s Watergate”s? And yet, nothing sticks, because nothing was there in the first place. Wishing does not make it so, even though conservatives have been wishing so hard that you’d think it would make it so. When right-wingers start claiming that something is “worse than Watergate and Iran-Contra combined, times maybe 10,” you can rest assured that there’s nothing to it.
The second clue: predictably, accusations by Republicans starting turning out to be bullshit, like the story about how IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House “at least” 157 times, which of course could only mean he was constantly scheming with Obama personally to target conservatives. The “at least” was a cute touch, meaning that it was probably even more than 157 times. It turned out that this “smoking gun,” as Fox News talking heads referred to it, was baloney. Shulman did not visit the White House 157 times. The number refers to how many events Shulman was cleared to attend. In fact, Shulman signed in only 11 times over 4 years. Furthermore, 76% of the clearances were for health care-related briefings.
The third clue: it was revealed that about two-thirds of the groups applying for tax-exempt status were conservative, and about two-thirds of the groups approved… were conservative. As Kevin Drum pointed out, it’s a funny way to run a “witch hunt.” If the intent was to target conservatives and disproportionately shut them down, why did that not happen?
The fourth clue: right-wingers started using the investigation of whether there was a focus on conservative groups applying for tax-exempt “social welfare” status to claim that any IRS audit against any conservative for any reason was only more evidence of Obama’s criminality. Take Wayne Allyn Root, former Libertarian vice-presidential running mate and conservative talk show host. He was claiming to anyone who will listen that he knew all along there was a witch hunt, because he was audited!
Despite the fact that it was a personal audit—meaning that, in fact, the current IRS brouhaha has absolutely no relation to Root’s case. Nevertheless, Root claims he is “vindicated” in his accusation that Obama personally targeted him for persecution.
The fifth clue: after many hearings and enough investigation so that some clear evidence of wrongdoing should have been uncovered, Darryl Issa (whose personal reputation is hardly sterling) issued a statement which clearly insinuated that Obama, through his lackeys, was directing the IRS to attack his political enemies—but when you looked closely, it was clear that Issa had nothing:
… Republican Rep. Darrell Issa said interviews with workers in the Cincinnati IRS office show targeting of conservative groups was “a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters – and we’re getting to proving it.”
“My gut tells me that too many people knew this wrongdoing was going on before the election, and at least by some sort of convenient, benign neglect, allowed it to go on through the election,” he said. “I’m not making any allegations as to motive, that they set out to do it, but certainly people knew it was happening.”
Now, read that carefully: “in all likelihood,” “getting to prove it,” “My gut tells me.” When you factor all of that in, you are left with, semantically, nothing. Zero. But after reading it, you get the strong impression that this is real and true. After all, “people knew it was happening,” and there can’t be “motives” for something that was not happening, right?
And the excerpts of testimony? They seemed to consist of every time that “Washington D.C.” was ever mentioned, so as to give the impression that D.C., and therefore Obama personally, was involved. But again, a close inspection shows that no one piece of testimony showed any actual evidence of direction from D.C., and that references to “requests” for information from D.C. were likely of a simple procedural nature.
The sixth clue: an IRS manager, this time making clear statements, said that the focus on “Tea Party” groups did not originate from D.C. (not that originating from D.C. in any way means that Obama was involved anyway). And this official claiming it was his idea was a conservative Republican.
That was kind of when the ongoing firestorm of conservative-media outrage ebbed quite a bit.
But today, we have one last piece of the puzzle:
The Internal Revenue Service used the terms “progressive,” “Israel” and “occupy” on internal documents that helped agency employees screen groups’ applications for tax-exempt status, according to IRS documents.
In other words, it was not a witch hunt for conservatives. They were looking for wrongdoing by pretty much anyone.
My favorite line comes next in the article:
The disclosure adds a dimension to the controversy surrounding IRS scrutiny of applications for tax exemptions.
Ya think? The “extra dimension,” by the way, is that this is not a scandal at all. The groups under scrutiny are supposed to be “promoting social welfare,” and it seems clear that many, if not most, are primarily partisan political action groups using the tax-exempt and donor-anonymous status illegitimately as a shield. Which is why any political leaning is a clue. The wrongdoing would have been if one type of group had been singled out over the others. This new information suggests that this was not the case.
Republicans like to ask, “What did Obama know and when did he know it?” the classic Watergate question. Now it becomes, “Did Darryl Issa and the Republicans know about this new information, and if so, when?”
Because there has been an egregious abuse of power culminating in a partisan political witch hunt—by Republicans, targeting Obama. That abuse of power, that string of lies, that waste of taxpayer money will never be investigated. And the media will likely allow this all to fizzle without fanfare, leaving a huge chunk of the American population to feel like there was something there, because it was not refuted as loudly or as clearly as it was accused.