The recent scandals that have rocked the White House represent Americans’ worst fears about big government: Your government is spying on you; your government is targeting you; and your government is lying to you. Americans should be outraged, but they should not be surprised.
It would be wrong to view the controversy over the IRS scandal as a typical Republican vs. Democrat squabble. The IRS is a powerful agency that can influence nearly every decision Americans make through its authority to tax and regulate. The IRS grows stronger and more powerful the more the federal government spends and borrows.
Organizations and individuals who promote fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets, greater government accountability, and more local autonomy present a threat to the structure that gives the IRS its power. It should not come as a surprise, then, that the culture of the IRS would promote enhanced scrutiny of these groups.
This has nothing to do with what party is in power. That’s why Americans should not mistake this for a battle between Republicans and Democrats. They should understand that it is a fight between Washington and everyone else.
Consider other examples of this fight between Washington and the people. The Associated Press, hardly a right-wing organization, is now a victim of privacy violations and excessive overreach by the Department of Justice. Private companies are being strong-armed by the Department of Health and Human Services to contribute to a “voluntary” fund to promote Obamacare. The administration’s response to the sequester — which cut a paltry sum from Washington’s $3.7 trillion budget — was to punish innocent Americans with long lines at airports and no more White House tours. The Environmental Protection Agency is accused of waiving fees for favored environmental groups but not for right-leaning organizations.
Though the recent examples involve a Democratic administration, Republicans have shown they are just as tempted to abuse the power of government. At its core, the IRS scandal is not the result of one political party attacking another. It is the inevitable consequence of a federal government that has gotten too big and too expensive to control. The federal government’s massive bureaucracy is inherently dysfunctional, corrupt, intolerant, and incompetent — regardless of who is in charge. These are not random incidents perpetrated by bad actors. They are systemic features of the $4 trillion enterprise known as the federal government.
To a certain extent, the president is justified in shifting blame on to others. How could any one person be responsible for everything that goes on in his administration?
Unfortunately for the president, his best defense is the same reason Americans should reject his liberal agenda to make the federal government more powerful, more intrusive, and more involved in the decisions we make. The bigger government gets, the less control the president has and the more opportunities there are for abuse. And that means less freedom and security for the rest of us.
When the IRS can harass tea-party groups, when the Department of Justice can monitor reporters’ conversations, when the EPA can adopt double standards for ideological allies and opponents, when Health and Human Services regulators can openly extort the businesses they regulate — in short, when there is no accountability — we are no longer citizens but subjects.
Conservatives often have a difficult time explaining why we support a smaller, more limited federal government. These scandals make that job a little easier. It’s not that we don’t like government, but we don’t like government intimidating and harassing media outlets, businesses, citizen organizations, or anyone else in the manner these scandals have brought to light.
And we understand that because this kind of corruption and incompetence is inherent in any massive, unaccountable organization, simply passing a new law will not solve the problem. To prevent the next abuse of government power, we need to reduce government power.
— Mike Lee is a U.S. Senator from Utah and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.