Magazine | June 17, 2013, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

‐ The IRS is targeting people who make Obama look bad. Eric Holder, call your accountant.

‐ President Obama’s sprawling and frequently tedious National Defense University speech was long on hope but comparatively short on change, more scholastic navel-gazing than articulation of new policy. Some of what Mr. Obama sold as new strategy is in fact a mere shift in verbiage. After the president renounced the idea of a “boundless ‘global war on terror,’” for instance, he went on to outline an alternative that is just the G.W.O.T. by another name. On Guantanamo Bay, the president did call for real change, but change unlikely to occur any time soon. His promise to close the prison is as empty now as it was in 2009, a truth reflected in the president’s admission that Congress still wields the power to block wholesale detainee transfers — which it did, in bipartisan fashion, the last time his administration tried this maneuver. At a time when an unacceptably high number of detainees released from Cuba return to terror, we should not entertain closing the prison as a public-relations stunt or an exercise in collective catharsis. We should consider closing it when there are no longer enough jihadists to fill it. Elsewhere, the speech was more mixed, which is to say, better. We were cheered by the president’s explicit defense of the drone program as proportional, legal, and just (though not by the unrealistic standards of certainty he claimed would guide future strikes), and we agree that the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force needs updating. But on balance, the speech is of a piece with the troubling regression of the president’s already flawed foreign policy, away from a view of the world as it is and back to a view of the world as Barack Obama wishes it were.

‐ The Justice Department’s snooping on Associated Press and Fox News reporters is the media’s favorite scandal, because the media’s main interest is the media. The DOJ, of course, has the right and the responsibility to investigate leaks of classified material, but its judgment and its actions here are unsupportable. The problem is that this administration (like many of its predecessors) classifies documents quite liberally as a means of keeping information from the public because it is embarrassing rather than sensitive; the bureaucracies respond by leaking just as liberally, and many reporters see classified material cross their desks on a regular basis. If the law were consistently enforced, much of the Washington press corps would be hoosegowed. That creates an opportunity for selective enforcement, which is what we may have here. James Rosen was not after nuclear-launch codes, but, in his words — words intercepted by the DOJ — evidence of “muddle-headed policy” vis-à-vis North Korea. That he works for an outlet that has been critical of the Obama administration surely did not weigh in his favor. While the IRS bullies the Tea Party, the DOJ bullies the press. Eric Holder knows this is wrong, which is why he made it sound as though he were just a bystander rather than a man who signed off on the warrants.

‐ White House spokesman Jay Carney had a rough May. He began the month by insisting that the White House had made only one change to CIA talking points about the attack on Benghazi last September, notwithstanding the twelve changes made by the State Department that scrubbed references to al-Qaeda and to missed warnings about insufficient security. Later in the month, when an awakened press corps peppered him with questions about Benghazi, IRS harassment of tea-party groups, and the Justice Department’s reading of AP reporters’ e-mails, he compared them to birtherism. “You know, we could go down the list of [possible] questions — we could say, what about the president’s birth certificate? [Would that be] legitimate?” But before we got there, there would surely be this question: “Does the president have such an evasive and petulant spokesman because he wants to be represented by someone like himself?”

#page#‐ When it rained on a Rose Garden press conference with the Turkish prime minister, President Obama asked his Marine honor guards to hold umbrellas over his and the prime minister’s heads. One former general (USAF) complained that Obama had made the guards look like butlers. Marine regs forbid Marines to carry or use umbrellas while in uniform, though they also enjoin Marines to “perform such other duties as the President may direct.” So the president was within his rights. But did he do the right thing? During the 1944 presidential election, FDR rode through four of New York’s five boroughs in an open car in a torrential downpour, without benefit of umbrella or raincoat, to flash that thousand-watt smile and show he was up for a fourth term. There are no regs for presidential theater. Obama’s instincts range from detached to preachy to imperious; only now, it seems, have people begun to notice.

‐ President Obama spoke at the commencement of Morehouse College, alma mater of numerous black luminaries, including Martin Luther King Jr. Like all commencement speakers, he urged the graduates to keep on working hard in life; like all liberal commencement speakers, he exhorted them to be politically committed. But he also urged them to be moral models for their race. “Inspire those who look up to you to expect more of themselves. We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. . . . Keep setting an example for what it means to be a man. Be the best husband to your wife. . . . Be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important.” Noble words. And yet it was possible to feel a moment of sympathy for Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic, who asked why Obama gives such pep talks only to black audiences. Family breakdown is the scourge of all races these days. Black graduates are not the only young men who need to hear Obama’s message.

‐ Joe Biden told a Democratic National Committee–sponsored reception celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month that Jews in the culture industries — media, entertainment — had led the push for gay marriage. “I bet you 85 percent of those changes, whether it’s in Hollywood or social media, are a consequence of Jewish leaders in the industry,” Biden said. Liberals push liberal agendas, and so long as most Jews are liberal, most of their cultural impact will be in a liberal direction. As a historically persecuted group, Jews are uncomfortable with others’ noticing their contributions, however proud of them they are. Biden, who is the Fred Astaire of self-expression, presented these concepts with his customary aplomb. Next: Biden’s thoughts on black soul.

‐ Aswini Anburajan is a director at BuzzFeed and a writer for WNYC’s blog (that is, the blog of the National Public Radio outlet in New York City). She is also a self-appointed arbiter of the question “Who is a Latino?” She described Texas senator Ted Cruz as a “LINO” — a Latino in Name Only — because of his opposition to granting citizenship to illegal immigrants. If Anburajan were a Latina, she would not be a wise one.

‐ The deficit has dropped. The main cause, it seems, has been a revenue surge as taxpayers moved income into 2012 to escape the higher taxes imposed at the start of this year. This isn’t a reason to be less concerned about our long-term debt trajectory. But it’s not a reason to refrain from raising the debt ceiling, either. Since nobody — not even Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) — has a plan to bring the deficit all the way to zero this year, it will have to be raised. Republicans should use the short-term necessity to make progress on the long-term problem, by pressing for modest reforms to the welfare state that would yield big savings. Congress could, for example, cap Medicaid spending per person, or reduce Medicare benefits for people with high lifetime earnings, without forcing Democrats to fall on their swords. At the same time, Republicans should act to contain the economic fallout of hitting the debt ceiling, by passing a new law that allows the government to service and roll over existing debt even if it surpasses the limit of its borrowing authority. The goal, after all, is to reduce the burden the government places on the economy, not add to it.

‐ Concerned about the weak security provisions in the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill, Senators Cruz, Sessions, Lee, and Grassley offered amendments to beef them up, which were rejected, rejected, rejected, and rejected. Securing the borders and controlling the flow of illegal immigrants through the visa system clearly is not uppermost on the committee’s mind. But what is? Sessions offered the most general and inoffensive control measure possible — a cap of 30 million on new immigrants over the coming decade — and stood alone in voting for it. It does no good to talk up assimilation, as some supporters of this bill do, while opposing any action to make immigration assimilable. As it stands, the bill would create more than 30 million new legal immigrants in the next ten years, including the 11 million illegals already here; with the new arrivals added to current immigration trends, nearly one in five Americans would be foreign-born, and Congress would be well on its way to realizing Bertolt Brecht’s dream of dissolving the people and electing another.

‐ For the first time, scientists created a cloned human embryo. For whatever reason, the press was incapable of grasping the fact. So, for example, the Wall Street Journal reported that “the researchers stopped well short of creating a human clone,” which is true only if human beings in the embryonic stage of development are not human. The Los Angeles Times editorialized that the breakthrough made it possible to use cloning to produce stem cells in a way that “doesn’t require the destruction of human embryos.” That’s flatly untrue: The researchers’ method does indeed require that the human embryo created through cloning be destroyed. By treating human life as a product of manufacture and then destroying it for parts, the procedure is a double assault on human dignity. The good news, such as it is, is that this truth is sufficiently widely appreciated that it apparently has to be obscured.

#page#The Rich Get More (Audits)

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has made news over the past several weeks as details of the targeting of conservative 501(c)(4) groups for extra screening have come to light, causing Americans to question the impartiality of one of the most notorious arms of government. Although groups associated with the Tea Party had complained of harassment from the IRS for years, it was only when the IRS acknowledged the extra scrutiny given to these groups that the government and many ordinary Americans were forced to grapple with the knowledge that one of the most intrusive federal agencies may not be as neutral as they had hoped.

It will take months, if not years, for the IRS scandal to play itself out. The crucial question will be whether the harassment was a top-down political strategy or the result of lower-level agents run amok. It may remain a mystery.

But the harassment of tea-party organizations is not the only way the IRS has gone after President Obama’s opponents. Over the past few years, the IRS has dramatically increased enforcement actions against the president’s favorite nemesis, “the rich” — and the top-line details are chilling.

Between 2008 and 2010, the IRS increased audits of all income brackets, but the most dramatic increase in audit rates was for taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes above $500,000, as illustrated in the accompanying chart, which shows the percentage of returns that were audited in each year between 2008 and 2012, by income level. The year a return is audited follows the year for which a return is filed, so returns audited in 2008, for example, are for income from 2007.

(Source: IRS)

The increases are striking. Audit rates for high-income taxpayers jumped dramatically between 2008 and 2011. While the chances of being audited for filers reporting no income increased from 2.15 percent to 3.42 percent, the chances for filers reporting between $500,000 and $1 million almost doubled, from 2.98 percent to 5.38 percent.

The chance of being audited for the highest-income earners increased even more dramatically. In 2008, a taxpayer making between $5 million and $10 million had a 6.47 percent chance of being audited; by 2011, that chance was 20.75 percent. For filers making over $10 million, the chance of being audited increased from 9.77 percent to 29.93 percent.

With the odds of being audited just about tripling for the wealthiest on Obama’s watch, the IRS has been unleashed like never before. If the IRS is simply using income to pick its targets, then its actions are legal. What remains to be seen is whether the skyrocketing audits have been specifically aimed at Republicans. The IRS has enough audit detail in its databases to reveal such political bias if it exists, and one can expect a flurry of data requests to flow from congressional Republicans in coming months. The tea-party scandal may well be just the tip of the iceberg.

#page#‐ Liberals are crowing that Obamacare is already starting to cut costs. Health-care inflation has been relatively low the last few years, and the premiums for the insurance policies California is offering on its Obamacare exchanges have come in below projections. Now for the rest of the story: Health-care inflation started dropping in 2003, and as far as we can tell the reasons it has been low in recent years are the recession, a slowdown in medical innovation, and an increase in out-of-pocket payments. The first two reasons are unhappy developments, and the third is a trend that fits better with conservative than with liberal reforms. Residents of California, meanwhile, will soon discover that “lower than expected” does not mean lower. Premiums are going up, and liberals expect us to be grateful because our covered benefits are increasing, too, by regulatory fiat. The public’s gratitude may turn out to be lower than expected too.

‐ When the Department of Defense classified the Fort Hood shooting as “workplace violence” instead of terrorism, it denied some benefits to the families of the deceased. Apparently, however, there was no similar judgment call to be made regarding the shooter: Major Nidal Hasan has been paid nearly $280,000 since the massacre as he awaits trial, because of a rule requiring a guilty verdict before non-civilian military personnel may be punished for serious offenses. We suppose we should be grateful he has not drawn combat pay.

‐ Hardly had Democrats finished scolding Republicans for “politicizing” the recent series of Obama-administration scandals than they turned around and blamed last month’s devastating spate of tornadoes in Oklahoma on Republican inaction on global warming. Less than 24 hours after the tornadoes struck, Rhode Island senator Sheldon Whitehouse took to the Senate floor to call Republicans “polluters” and climate-change “deniers.” A day later, Barbara Boxer used the tragedy to call for action on her long-stalled carbon tax and chided Republicans: “We were warned about extreme weather.” The relevant class of tornadoes has in fact declined by 50 percent over the last half-century. Salon’s unparodiable David Sirota warned that sequester-induced cuts to the National Weather Service will leave us vulnerable to extreme weather in the future — even though the sequester-burdened National Weather Service station in Norman, Okla., was able to give area residents 16 minutes’ warning, three minutes more than the average. Some minds cannot resist pulling tragedy into the vortex of politics.

‐ It wasn’t just tea-party and pro-life groups that the IRS targeted for abuse. In 2011 and 2012 the IRS treated adoptive parents as a similarly suspect community. The Taxpayer Advocate Service reports that in 2012, a whopping 69 percent of adoptive families claiming the adoption tax credit were selected for audit. By contrast, the IRS audits typical middle-class families at less than a 1 percent rate. This wave of audits discovered almost no fraud and a much-lower-than-average rate of adjustments to the tax returns. So adoptive families went through the expense and emotion of adoption just to face a fruitless and frustrating encounter with the taxman when they returned home with their new child. Parenthood has its inevitable travails, but an audit should not be one of them.

‐ Elizabeth Warren has issued a demand that students who take out loans to pay for college be charged the same interest rate that banks pay at the Fed’s discount window. The interest rates on student loans already are subsidized, but we think that Senator Warren may be on to something here. Perhaps student borrowers should be permitted to borrow on precisely the same terms that banks get at the discount window. And as soon as they have billions of dollars in liquid assets, high-grade collateral to post against their loans, and a repayment schedule measured in hours rather than decades, they will be ready to proceed. Until then, the proposal is daft, which is becoming something of a trademark for Senator Warren.

‐ GOP members of the House Agriculture Committee, including some who style themselves tea partiers, have joined hands with Democrats to fund another spree of big-government corporatism predicated on an increasingly remote interest in improving the American agricultural sector. The latest “farm bill” spends $940 billion over five years, mostly on a food-stamps program that has more than doubled in size since 2007. Perhaps its worst feature is the Dairy Producer Margin Protection Program. Farmers who participate in this program would receive “margin protection,” insurance that guarantees a profit floor. But by signing up for the program, they would also have to agree to be part of a government cartel for controlling the dairy supply. A cutting-edge idea, no doubt, in 1933. We don’t know whether the program will do much to help the average dairy farm. But we know it smells like one.

‐ One Tuesday in mid May, federal lawmakers hauled in America’s most successful corporation to investigate why it had so precisely followed the law. Apple, which paid about $6 billion in corporate-income taxes in 2012, was summoned to account for its practice of locating subsidiaries and activities abroad in low-tax jurisdictions. It is indeed a problem that U.S. corporations shift much of their income elsewhere and leave it there. But corporations do this because Congress has encouraged them to. The U.S. taxes all income earned by its corporations worldwide, but collects these taxes only when corporations bring their profits home, and at the highest rate in the industrialized world: 35 percent. Congress should not be surprised, therefore, that Apple goes to great lengths to earn its income elsewhere. Cutting the corporate tax rate, and applying it only to profits earned domestically, would encourage companies to invest here. Apple supports this measure tepidly, since it would benefit smaller competitors more than multinational corporations. Senator Rand Paul said following the hearing that Congress “should apologize to Apple” and should itself “be on trial here for creating a byzantine and bizarre tax code.” He is just about right: Congress owes an apology to Apple for calling it before a star-chamber subcommittee, but a more serious one to the American people, for devising a tax code that hurts them more than it does Apple.

#page#‐ A bridge over the Skagit River in Washington collapsed. There were no deaths, but sensible political discourse suffered severe injuries. Democrats responded with new calls for expanded infrastructure spending, and Republicans countered with charges, not unjustified, that prior appropriations through the stimulus and other infrastructure bills had been frittered away. The relevant discipline here is not politics but engineering: The bridge in question would have been rendered unusable by the loss of a single support truss, and several of those trusses were destroyed when they were smashed by a very large truck carrying several tons of industrial equipment. No word on whether the driver was a Democrat or a Republican. Sometimes an accident is just an accident.

‐ Gestational surrogacy, whereby an embryo conceived in vitro is planted in the womb of a woman who has contracted with one or both of the child’s genetic parents, holds out hope for many couples who otherwise would not be blessed with children in their own bloodlines. The transaction is nonetheless disturbing: A woman rents out her womb and hands over a child for money. India is the world’s largest supplier of gestational carriers; the United States ranks second. Last August, New Jersey governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have made gestational surrogacy easier to contract for in New Jersey. Governor Bobby Jindal should follow suit if a similar bill now making its way through the Louisiana legislature lands on his desk.

‐ Vermont has become the fourth state in which assisted suicide is legal. For the first three years, the law will include safeguards to make sure that the people being killed are of sound mind and really want to end their lives. After that period there will be no more need for such fussiness. Like the other three states with assisted suicide, Vermont has a suicide rate significantly higher than the national average. A new study finds that in one of those states, Oregon, the rate has been increasing sharply. So here at least is one government policy that is producing its intended results.

‐ Governor Rick Perry, Republican of Texas, has wisely vetoed his state’s S.B. 346, a Republican-backed measure that would have required many nonprofit 501(c)(4)s to disclose the names of donors who gave more than $1,000. The bill passed with large majorities. Perry said that no campaign-finance regulation “is tolerable . . . that can be used by any government, organization, or individual to intimidate those who choose to participate in our [political] process.” That the bill made it so far shows that some Republicans have internalized the talking point that the “real” lesson of the IRS scandal is that nonprofit groups need to change the way they do business. This is like telling a man whose house was just robbed to take the locks off his doors.

‐ Unlike the sequester, here is a budget cut that has caused serious problems: An Oregon woman who called 911 as her ex-boyfriend broke into her house was told that there were no available cops — because of budget cuts. “Uh, I don’t have anybody to send out there,” the dispatcher told the woman. “Can you ask him to go away?” He didn’t, and the woman was choked and sexually assaulted, according to Oregon state police. Last year the Josephine County sheriff’s department lost a multimillion-dollar federal subsidy, forcing it to cut 23 deputies and its entire major-crimes unit. The department now has only six deputies. It has even encouraged domestic-violence victims to “consider relocating to an area with adequate law-enforcement services.” “There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t have another victim,” Sheriff Gil Gilberson told . . . Oregon Public Radio.

‐ “The battle is ours, and I promise you victory.” These fighting words from Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah commit Hezbollah, the Iranian and Shiite militia under his command, to engage in Syria on behalf of President Bashar Assad and his regime. Fifteen hundred Hezbollah troops are reported to be in the field already, but three or four times that number are available. This move shows that Iran is prepared to make an open-ended gamble in defense of its position in Syria. Its Sunni opponents reacted immediately by firing two Grad rockets into the area of Beirut where Nasrallah and Hezbollah are quartered. Sporadic fighting has broken out in Tripoli and elsewhere in Lebanon. Sunnis in Iraq are simultaneously killing Shiites there by setting car bombs. What began as a nationwide protest against the brutal tyranny of Assad has widened into a sectarian war with no good outcome. On the sidelines are the United States and Israel, neither of which could or should engage in Muslim sectarian warfare. In the event that Nasrallah’s promised victory comes about, however, who knows how far Iran’s next open-ended gamble might go.

‐ Rioting in ten districts of Stockholm? Setting alight a police station, burning down a school, leaving hundreds of Volvos blazing over the course of a whole week? Swedes are having trouble believing that their vaunted welfare state, the very epitome of social democracy, could have come down to a repeat of the ugly riots in less liberal countries like, for instance, the France of 2005 or the Britain of two summers ago. Everyone is looking for explanations, and one of them is that the riots started when police shot dead a 69-year-old Portuguese man in his own house. Unemployment is another explanation, as it affects almost a quarter of those in their early 20s, and they resent it. Maybe education is deficient; maybe, after decades of Swedish leveling-down, there’s still too much inequality. Swedish Muslims are somewhere above 10 percent of the population. Nobody likes to point out that the rioters are Muslims who haven’t integrated because multiculturalism has kept them apart, and they aren’t in the least grateful for it.

#page#‐ Pope Francis, at a small official gathering at the Vatican, spoke briefly and in broad terms about wealth, poverty, the state, God, and ethics. We might have taken his theme and expressed it differently — for example, noting that the creation of wealth is the best way to reduce poverty. We would have placed less distrust in free markets and more in the power of the state to “control” them. But we take issue with such details in Francis’s message mostly because they detract from its heart, which is unassailably noble. “The pope has the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them,” he said, in the spirit of the good saint of Assisi, his namesake and worthy model.

‐ Every spring for as long as anyone can remember, competitors and spectators have gathered in Brockworth, England, for the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake. A wheel of Double Gloucester is rolled down the hill, followed by a crowd in merry pursuit of the cheese and the honor, both of which go to the first person to cross the finish line at the bottom. It’s a rough-and-tumble business, and bones are occasionally broken. Earlier this year, local police sought out Diana Smart, the 86-year-old Gloucestershire resident who had been making the cheese wheels since the 1980s. They warned her sternly that she would be liable for any injuries that might occur. “It’s crackers,” she said, meaning not some culinary complement to the Double Gloucester but “the fact that the police came round and warned me not to give the event some cheese.” In the end, noting that she lacked “the will or the cash to fight any lawsuits,” she backed off and gave the event no cheese, but news of the episode, in which life so seriously imitated satire, to the great amusement of readers all over the world, had the effect of increasing this year’s field, which was distributed across several races. Rollers flew in from the four corners of the earth. The winners were American, Australian, English, and Japanese. The “cheese wheels” were substitutes made of foam, but the chase for real cheese never produced so much mirth.

‐ The current fashion on college campuses is “fossil-fuel divestment,” meaning the withdrawal of funds from oil companies and the like. It is a fashion that can turn ugly. At Swarthmore, pro-divestment students prevailed on the board of managers to hold an open meeting. After all, Swarthmore is a college with a Quaker tradition, and free and fair discussion should be the rule. The board complied, holding an open meeting — which the pro-divestment students hijacked. They refused to allow conservative students and others to speak. The adults in the room basically smiled on this action, or “direct action,” as the pro-divestment students like to put it. The spirit of their movement was captured in the headline of an article written by one of them: “F*** Your Constructive Dialogue.” (No asterisks in the original.) As Stanley Kurtz has written, the movement for fossil-fuel divestment is the latest threat to a liberal education, the latest manifestation of the illiberalism of the Left. Cornell University set an awful precedent when it caved to armed student “occupiers” in 1969. Allan Bloom could no longer teach in this environment and departed. Academic institutions should defend civilization against barbarism, something Swarthmore seems indisposed to do.

‐ Bret Easton Ellis is a bold writer and a free man. The author of Less Than Zero has been attacking “the gatekeepers of politically correct gayness.” He has done this in stinging and stylish ways. Of course, the gatekeepers have been attacking back, calling him, among other things, “a self-loathing gay man.” Ellis’s response? “I might be a little self-loathing at times . . . but it’s not because I’m gay.” There is a human being, not a political robot.


The Limits of Scandal

Just as journalists finally turned to examining the administration’s shifting excuses for its behavior during and after the Benghazi attacks, two more serious controversies erupted. The IRS was found to have targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny, and the Justice Department to have conducted wide-ranging surveillance of selected journalists in investigating a national-security leak.

Republicans are delighted to see journalistic skepticism of power reviving, even if it has taken until five years into the Obama administration. They should continue to use their investigative powers to learn more about what the administration has been up to. It would be a mistake, however, for Republicans to count on scandal to deliver election victories in 2014 and 2016.

It is a lesson they should have learned in 1998. Republicans expected to make large gains in Congress that year but ended up losing five House seats and standing pat in the Senate. The problem was not so much that Republicans “overreached” in pursuing the impeachment of President Clinton, as the conventional wisdom has it. The Republicans that year did not really run on a promise to remove Clinton from office — or on any other agenda. Their strategy was to assume that the scandal would redound to their benefit, and that they merely had to sit back and let victory rain o’er them. It didn’t.

The current lot should not make the same mistake. Democratic scandal does not take the place of a Republican agenda. It does not reform the tax code or reduce the debt or ease regulatory burdens on small business. It cannot substitute for a strategy to replace Obamacare. By all means, Republicans should run against the president and his party — against their refusal to take the entitlement crisis seriously, against the implementation of their “train wreck” health-care law, against the unusually politicized executive-branch culture that contributed to the post-Benghazi cover-up. They should at the same time understand that a purely negative message, however justified, will not produce the governing majority Republicans should be aiming for in the next two elections.

Even worse than relying on scandal would be advertising the fact. Republicans should not indulge in public speculation about the electoral repercussions of these scandals for 2014 (much less 2016!). Doing so plays into the Democrats’ hands by making legitimate inquiries seem like opportunistic partisan exercises, and is thus likely to be a self-canceling prophecy.

Republicans should not jump to conclusions, either, about how high up the White House chain of command these scandals are likely to creep. The facts alone will determine that. And perhaps most of all, conservatives and Republicans should not talk loosely about impeachment, as Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah has regrettably done. The overwhelming likelihood at this point is that Barack Obama will leave office on January 20, 2017. The main task ahead for Republicans is to build a post-Obama majority so that his governing philosophy departs too.


The IRS Scandal

Five separate investigations into the IRS’s improper targeting of conservative groups soon will be under way: Two House committees (Ways and Means, Oversight), one Senate committee (Finance), and the IRS itself have announced probes into the case, along with the FBI, which is exploring the possibility of criminal wrongdoing. The case already reaches far and wide: IRS officials lied to the public, and very likely lied to Congress, about their knowledge of the case.

What the IRS originally presented as the misguided actions of a few flunkies in Cincinnati already has resulted in the departure of the acting director of the agency and the placement of a senior manager on administrative leave even as she invokes the Fifth Amendment when questioned by Congress. (In a sign of the intractability of modern bureaucracy, the first was on his way out in a few weeks anyway and the second refused a request to resign.) Senior managers of the agency knew about the case, and at least two prominent Democratic elected officials (Senator Carl Levin of Michigan and Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland) are known to have applied political pressure to the agency, requesting that it scrutinize tea-party groups and other potential political enemies.

What we already know about the case is cause for despair: The IRS categorically targeted tea-party groups, other conservative nonprofits, religious and Zionist Jewish groups, and other organizations suspected of holding critical views regarding the Obama administration and current government policy. When this first threatened to become a scandal, the IRS did not stop targeting conservative groups; instead, it monkeyed around with the policy language to allow it to continue doing the same thing without explicitly marking tea-party organizations for harassment. Applications for nonprofit status were put into limbo, and the agency subjected nonprofits to grotesquely improper questioning about everything from their family members to the contents of their prayers. It is difficult to imagine anything coming out of this investigation that is going to make this mess look any better, and easy to imagine its looking even worse. 

The misuse of government resources for political ends is a crime, and the FBI should treat this as a high-priority criminal matter. But it is also a political question. The Obama administration has long made it clear that it is willing to use official power to reward its friends and punish its enemies. It is tightly aligned with public-sector unions, which also played a role in this case — the union boss representing IRS employees is a vociferous enemy of the Tea Party and a frequent White House visitor. The White House and its congressional allies created a political environment in which the targeting of tea-party groups was not only tolerated but demanded. For that, they should be held accountable even if no one violated the law.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

In This Issue


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White House

Politico Doubles Down on Fake Turnberry Scandal

It's tough to be an investigative reporter. Everybody who feeds you a tip has an axe to grind. Or, alternatively, you find yourself going, "I wonder if . . . ?" You put in your research, you talk to lots of people, you accumulate a huge pile of information, but you still haven't proved your hypothesis. A wise ... Read More

Four Cheers for Incandescent Light Bulbs

It brought me much -- indeed, too much -- joy to hear of the Trump administration's rollback of restrictions on incandescent light bulbs, even if the ban will remain in place. The LED bulbs are terrible. They give off a pitiable, dim, and altogether underwhelming "glow," one that never matched the raw (if ... Read More