Commentary Magazine


The Exploding IRS Scandal

Yesterday’s congressional hearings turned out to be a disaster for the IRS and, more broadly, for the Obama administration.

We’re now hearing from real people (see here and here) who are telling real stories about real harassment. It’s all quite chilling, from efforts to intimidate donors and illegally releasing tax returns, to pressuring pro-life groups not to protest outside of Planned Parenthood organizations, to demanding to know about the prayer activities of citizens. 

This kind of abuse of power, used in this manner, is something I can’t recall having seen in my three decades in politics. And the Obama administration’s first line of defense, which is that this was being conducted by rogue elements within the IRS, is collapsing. It’s clear that the intimidation tactics were widespread, coordinated and not confined to a few mid-level bureaucrats. 

We’re still in the early stages of this scandal, but it seems obvious to me that it will do substantial and sustained political damage. The fact that the president, his top lieutenants and Senate Democrats set the tone for what has occurred–that they created and encouraged a culture of intimidation–is clear evidence that this scandal reaches far beyond the IRS. That happened to be the agency tasked with executing the acts of intimidation. But the inspiration for the abuse of power came from other, political quarters. We’ll simply need to follow the various leads to see where this all ends up. I’m still not sure if people fully realize just how massive this scandal is. But before it’s over, they will.

I should add that press bias continues to manifest itself in this story, with some journalists even declaring that Representative Darrell Issa’s attacks on White House press secretary Jay Carney make them more disinclined to cover the scandal. What an odd journalistic standard that is. Whatever one thinks of Mr. Issa and his comments about Jay Carney being a “paid liar”–and I think they’re unwise and unfortunate coming from a committee chairman–this scandal merits press scrutiny. And if this were happening under a conservative president–if those being targeted by the IRS were black, or gay, or liberal–I can promise you the coverage would be intense and wall-to-wall regardless of how many stupid things were said by Democratic members of Congress. Journalists would be falling all over themselves covering this story. Right now they’re not. I’ll leave it to discerning readers to figure out why. 

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