“This is just getting started,” he tells me. “Finally, people get it. This is a lot bigger than just one person. This a whole effort by the administration, across the board, to squelch their opponents, to shut them up, and, finally, they’ve done it in a way that will allow us to call attention to it nationwide.”Oh pah-leeze. Yes, the Obama administration has been shutting up opponents at a breakneck pace. That's why you don't see any opponents. They're all squelched. Barack Obama personally goes out to all the individual government offices and says, "Hi there, can you make life slightly more irritating for some random guy in Texas who doesn't like me? I'm thinking maybe have him fill out an extra form or something. Yeah. Yeah, that'll do it. Take that, you tea party bastard."
McConnell is open to the idea of a special prosecutor, but he hasn’t decided whether to ask for an appointment.
Yes, these bozos in the branch office shouldn't have done it. That's why the IRS made them stop, and had an investigation, and apologized, and why heads are probably going to roll and then some. On the other hand, it's not exactly hard to see why any person of average human intelligence would note that there have been a metric bucketload of organizations cropping up these last few years with oddly partisan names like "Tea Party Wankers" or "Anti-Tax Patriots for Electing Republicans On The Sly" and claiming to be tax-exempt, nonpartisan organizations and think to themselves that there were likely to be a considerable number of scammers mixed in with that lot. Mind you, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS is one of these 501c4 outfits that gets somehow deemed sufficiently unpolitical, making the whole category into something of a scammer's paradise from the get-go; again, though—bad IRS bureaucrats. Bad.
Still, I find it difficult to get too worked up with world-shattering apoplectic outrage over it, which makes me a bad person, or possibly (even worse!) just not a conspiracy theorist. That's the problem; from McConnell down to the Kings and Gohmerts and Stockmans, all of conservatism has devolved into one big conspiracy theory. It's Breitbartism, all the way down. It's writ right into the movement now, and defined as synonymous with patriotism. You can go from Agenda 21 to ACORN to United Nations gun-grabbers to the powerful solar panel lobby to Benghazi all in one sweeping step; what the precise conspiracy is supposed to be or whether there is f--k-all worth of evidence to support your pet theory is unimportant; it's all about the theater, the very important and very politically motivated and very career-enhancing performance art of presuming everything to be connected to everything. Some IRS officers in a branch office screwed up? For real? Good God—Darrell Issa was probably rendered near-unconscious on his office floor when he heard it, breathing into a paper bag and waving off staffers asking him whether they should call for an ambulance.
Yes, yes, I should be more outraged. Sorry. I already have outrage fatigue, and I've had it for 10 years. The reasons, below the fold:
The one dismal benefit of this particular NotSufficientlyTaxExemptGate pseudocrisis may be that, as with all screw ups or distortions or outright abuses of government power, it's only discovered to be Very Very Bad when a conservative somewhere finds themselves on the receiving end of it. Under the last administration, protesting against the Iraq War got you put on an actual Pentagon list of possible terrorist threats, and nobody from the other side of the aisle gave a flying f--k. Quakers got put on that one. Effing Quakers. The uncanny nature by which the Terror Alert Level got itself raised before important elections or other politically helpful dates didn't result in outrage even after one of the architects of the Rainbow of Terror admitted that yes, he was pressured to do exactly that.
And yes, as others have pointed out, one of the vanishingly few times the IRS ever investigated a church for possible violations of their nonpartisan, nonprofit status it was for an anti-war sermon, during the Bush administration, two days before the election that won Bush a second term. That wasn't a scandal either. During the same year the IRS launched an investigation of the NAACP for opposing Bush's reelection. No Republicans were calling for Bush to resign over that particular outrage.
The Fast and Furious program, long been peddled by current Republicans as the worstest scandal to hit anything anywhere until the next worstest scandal, started under Bush. Nobody gives a damn. During the Bush administration, there were 13 terror attacks on U.S. diplomatic compounds (not including Iraq or Afghanistan), killing 98. You couldn't find a Republican lawmaker then who could even tell you what the talking points for a particular bombing or rocket attack or armed assault were at the time, much less one who decided that the real scandal was whether administration officials classified the attack as a "terrorist attack" or an "act of terror" in the days afterwards, and what might that difference mean? I mean, for f--ks sake, Issa. For f--k's sake. At long last, sir, have no sense of—oh, forget it.
What's this? In trying to track down illegal leaks of classified information, the Department of Justice obtained reporter phone records? Yeah, that's nasty. And it's funny how that keeps happening; under the Bush administration, the FBI did it to the New York Times. It was under the Bush administration, in fact, that we decided government could obtain all phone records, nationwide, and no longer even needed a reason for doing it, and if they had done it illegally—oops!—then we passed a damn law making it legal after-the-fact and immunizing all the people who did it. That's how much of a non-scandal it turned out to be. We were so damn helpful that we passed laws allowing government to break laws.
What about the very Department of Justice itself being politicized—being intentionally populated with members of a single ideology while removing less stalwartly ideological members? That happened. That was a damn fine example of, in McConnell's parlance, an administration using the powers of government to "squelch" their ideological opponents. It was almost a true scandal, even, given how overt it was and how close the architects were to the White House itself. Almost, anyway, but you'd be surprised at how quickly we can get over these things.
Even using the government specifically to punish or destroy your political enemies is considered No Big Thing, these days. Even now, even today. Hell, it's even patriotic. It'll get you on TV. ACORN didn't need to do anything wrong to get buried in a partisan wave political retribution by groups of conspiracy-touting congresspeople certain—certain!—that they were an integral part of an overarching Obama-premised political plot that not a one of those congressmen could even fully elucidate, much less justify. Planned Parenthood provides a very large number of services to citizens that have increasingly few other options—and no other organization has faced more or more prolonged explicitly ideological legislative actions to wipe them, by name, specifically, from the American landscape. You want to see a nakedly partisan, government-backed witch hunt of Americans, you just look outside.
But we don't get that, for "scandals." "Scandals," the truly media-friendly ones, the ones that will get Matt Drudge and Mitch McConnell and the bobbleheads of punditry on the same page, are land deals in Arkansas. "Scandals" are whether Hillary Clinton had Vince Foster killed because maybe postage stamps. "Scandals" are determining what school America's first non-white president might have attended as a kindergartener, and whether or not the young future president was shaped by that experience into an anti-American tool of religious zealots, and if you're thinking that our abilities to police political opportunism in government back rooms are more than a little reduced by the celebration of overt political opportunism in the front hallways, you might be onto something.
So a group of people in some IRS offices did some good-old-fashioned profiling, thus violating agency policy and getting themselves in very hot water, and so the next Biggest Scandal Ever, according to the top Republican in the very serious Senate, will be to determine how to connect this in any possible way to the Secret Muslim Guy From Kenya Who Was Probably In On It. It's all connected, you see. And if it's not connected, if there isn't that underlying conspiracy theory that can take the One Bad Thing and tie it directly to the next presidential election somehow, then we don't give a damn.
Can we use this to our advantage? Is there an opportunity here to get Republican ideologues outraged at other abuses of government power? I hear the executive branch can now hold certain classes of people imprisoned forever, regardless of evidence or trial—if we put a bug in Darrell Issa's ear suggesting that conservatives were one of those groups, could we get a bit of public irritation over that? There looked to be a moment when killing American citizens via armed flying robots was considered a Bad Thing, but then the primary lawmaker who was filibusterally outraged over the idea (after raking in buckets of publicity and the donations of many credulous supporters, mind you) changed his mind after the checks cleared and said you could kill American citizens by flying robot as much as you want after all, so long as you weren't spying on them first. At the very least we ought to be able to agree that members of government shouldn't use their positions of power to target their political enemies—but that would require all of the outraged partisans stopping themselves from goddamn doing that.
I suppose we should be grateful for what we've got. We've at long last got a vague notion, among top conservative deciders of things, that politicizing internal machinations of government would be bad. It's taken a whopping 10 years or so to even get this much—and it could all very well collapse again the moment a Republican once again ascends to the presidency, thus making everything from deficits to intelligence leaks to domestic espionage to partisan filtering of government employees to lying your damn ass off in public speeches on matters of war and peace perfectly fine again. Still, though, we might want to write this down. It's a bit of a big day, and if I thought the lesson would stick for even three minutes past the point where Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and Darrell Issa decided it was no longer useful in the next election, I might actually be a bit impressed by it.