Over the weekend, some in the mainstream press began the job of trying to resurrect the original story put out by the IRS that the targeting of conservative groups for scrutiny was the act of isolated rogue employees. The massive story attempting to unravel the confusing story of the targeting published in the New York Times yesterday not only seemed to get us back to thinking the affair was simply the product of people at the Cincinnati regional office who were “alienated” from the agency’s broader culture. It also portrayed the agents who perpetrated what almost everyone on both sides of the aisle thinks is an outrage as an underfunded, overworked band of “low-level” hard working people coping with an impossible task made necessary by conservatives trying to evade the tax laws.
The details provided by the Times investigation are interesting in that they give us a sense of the timeline of the targeting and the inadequate nature of supervision of the unit tasked with giving approval for requests by organizations for nonprofit status. But what it admittedly doesn’t do is to answer the main question that looms over the entire story: who gave the order for the targeting and who or what inspired the IRS officials to adopt such a blatantly partisan policy. It also ignores a clue toward solving this problem that Dave Weigel helpfully pointed out in Slate on Friday in his reaction to the astoundingly tone deaf performance of outgoing IRS chief Steven Miller at a congressional hearing: most of the people who work at the IRS are liberal.
As Weigel writes:
In theory, the civil-servant structure should make an organization less prone to an eruption of bias or of hive-mind behavior. But that’s not how it works. Liberals are more likely to enter the civil service, and to stick to it, than conservatives are. And why not? Conservatives want to shrink the size of government; Republicans have negotiated deals federally, and in the states, that slashed or froze the size of the bureaucracies. Ron Swanson aside, the public sector is no place for a libertarian.
Every single number proves this. Tim Carney has collected the campaign finance figures for IRS employees nationally and in the Cincinnati office. In the past three election cycles, IRS workers donated $247,000 to Democrats and $145,000 to Republicans. In Ohio, the number was skewed even further—75 percent to Democrats. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, around 40 percent of unionized federal employees identified as Democrats; only 27 percent identified as Republicans. State and local government employees are far more likely to be Democrats than Republicans.
None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has had contact with the federal bureaucracy in the last century. Yet on every news talk show discussing this scandal, liberals and Democrats have accused Republicans of politicizing the scandal. But the reality is that the political slant on the story is the product of those who created this mess, not the conservatives who have complained about it. And the people who did the targeting are part of a largely liberal bunch of civil servants that are very likely to have been influenced by the complaints being lodged about the Tea Party by the president, his party and the mainstream liberal media.
The White House is working hard to provide President Obama with what another generation would have termed “plausible deniability” about his knowledge of the scandal, and liberals are screaming bloody murder about any conservative who dares to accuse the administration of creating a culture which made such lapses inevitable. But while the president can claim he didn’t issue the order, it is another thing entirely to assert that those who did it weren’t seeking to do his will.
The Times story, like the inspector general’s report on the scandal that was made public last week, tells us what happened–but they don’t say why. That’s why the need for a more far-reaching and official investigation of the targeting, conducted with the sort of zeal that the Department of Justice normally reserves these days for the press, must follow.
The Times may have convinced itself that the people who targeted conservatives were isolated from the culture of the rest of the agency. But does anyone really believe that the singling out of every single group with the words “Tea Party” in their names for special scrutiny was hatched in a vacuum? The very fact that, as Weigel notes, the employees of a tax collection agency are probably inclined to think ill of tax protest groups should alert us to the very real possibility that politics and partisan bias are at the heart of this activity.