Democrats and liberal pundits are trashing House Republicans for continuing to hold hearings on the Internal Revenue Service scandal this week. While paying lip service to the need to condemn the agency’s politically motivated targeting of conservative organizations, they’re claiming the entire exercise is nothing more than political theater. Others go farther. Democratic Representative Jim McDermott told representatives of the groups that were singled out for unfair treatment by the IRS at a hearing this morning that they were to blame for what happened since their political motivations should have rendered them ineligible for nonprofit status in the first place.
This is all part of a counter-narrative that the left has been working hard to establish in the last month in order to divert the public from the misbehavior of the IRS. They hope that rather than increasing scrutiny on the tax agency, the American people will instead be maneuvered into thinking that the real problem here is the desire of conservative-oriented groups to have their voices heard.
But what came through in the hearings today should have shaken those who have bought into the media’s caricatures of the Tea Party and other conservative activists as racist bullies who are the cats’ paws of a vast right-wing conspiracy funded by big business. Whatever comes out of these hearings in terms of holding the IRS accountable, today’s event at least let the victims of the agency speak. And what they said gave the lie to those who have depicted them unfairly. The testimony didn’t just illustrate how groups of citizens were subjected to biased treatment because of their beliefs. What those watching on television heard were the genuine voices of America’s grass roots.
The horror stories of IRS abuse told today in front of Congress should send a chill down the spines of Americans. The groups were not merely investigated. They were told to hand over donor lists and scrutinized in a manner that made it clear that it was not so much their non-profit status that interested the agents conducting the inquisition but their beliefs, whether it was a desire to educate about the Constitution or opposition to abortion. What’s more, they were given the impression that what was going on wasn’t the whims of few rogue employees in Cincinnati but the will of their higher ups in Washington. As Becky Gerritson of the Wetumpka Tea Party in Alabama put it, “the individuals who tried to intimidate us” were only acting as they thought they should. “They think they are our masters.”
But the passion of Gerritson and her colleagues from other targeted groups should remind us most of all that the Tea Party movement wasn’t some top-down invention of the Koch brothers or other conservative oligarchs. These were ordinary citizens who banded together to talk about the Constitution and to petition their government in the time-honored manner of American democracy. They are not the cartoon villains of liberal myth that had actress/singer Bette Midler thanking the IRS on Twitter for targeting them as a “hate” group.
Democrats would prefer we spend our time discussing how to change the laws in order to make it harder for groups to express their beliefs. For them, political speech is the problem and the solution is to restrict it. Moreover, the belief that giving tax-exempt status to groups amounts to their being subsidized by the taxpayers—as McDermott said today—is another liberal myth. Like President Obama’s attempts to wage a war on philanthropy, this sort of thinking is based on the idea that our income belongs to the Treasury and that any portion of it that we are allowed to keep is a gift from Uncle Sam.
The goal of the left is to make it harder for conservatives and anyone else who dissents from liberal ideology to have their voices heard. That’s why they wish to target conservative groups and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened up the public square to more political speech, something that outrages a group that benefited from their dominance of the mainstream media. Let’s hope more Americans listen to the testimony of the activists and are inspired by their efforts to make the government accountable.