How many times have we heard the phrase, “this is too important to be left to politics?” Yes, when we’re discussing foreign policy or redistribution of wealth or basic human rights, we don’t want politics to interfere. However, that stated desire is rarely followed. Just look at how obstinate the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has been in the 113th Congress. Whether the issue is health care, gun control, or something as simple as raising the federal debt limit, the Republicans tend to think politics first. Their brains seem to freeze most particularly when faced with nuance. The Democrats have a long and checkered history of playing politics as well, but rarely so intensely when basic human and economic rights are involved.
Right now, the Obama Administration is mired in at least three difficult quagmires. They all have political components to them, but two of the three raise serious questions about the conduct of the Administration. The third one, the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya last September 11, cannot be analyzed with logic because while some facts are clear, far too many are not. Despite the sniping of Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the incident is not a scandal. Instead it falls into the “shit-happens bucket.” It is extremely sad that four Americans were killed, not only because they lost their lives but also because they most likely were the only people who really knew what happened on the ground that night. But that’s what happened, and we’ll have to settle for an imperfect understanding the events of that evening.
The two quagmires about which serious concern is warranted are (a) the I.R.S. singling out for special scrutiny certain right wing organizations that are applying for tax-exempt status under the new 501(c)4 designation, and (b) the Justice Department listening in on the conversations of over two hundred reporters working for the Associated Press who had information on terrorist attacks in the planning stage against the United States.
The IRS issue is one in which no party involved in the dispute is pure in motive and actions. Of the transgressions that have occurred, it’s clear that some were motivated to gain a political advantage and others were in order to ensure better working of our government. The key to proceeding from here is for each side to admit its mistakes, apologize to those whom they have violated, and propose realistic solutions that do not provide a political advantage to either side.
It’s clear that with the current rules for achieving a 501©4 tax-exempt status, the I.R.S. was way out of line in singling out conservative organizations for more intense scrutiny. However, a fair-minded individual who has the best interests of strengthening American democracy at heart may have seen the actions of the I.R.S. as being at least somewhat justified.
First, the conservative organizations that were applying for 501©4 status were driving Mack trucks through the gaping hole that the Supreme Court left with its 2010 ruling on the Citizens United case. That decision essentially allowed unlimited contributions to political campaigns. And if the donations were made through a 501©4 organization, the donors could remain as anonymous, thus side-stepping transparency regulations long ago established by the Federal Elections Commission.
It’s a very difficult line to draw when a 501©4 organization claims that it is advocating policy and lobbying for it, but not supporting or opposing a specific candidate. Because this line is so unclear, and because advocacy groups on both the conservative and liberals wings of the political spectrum have blatantly trashed opponent candidates, the IRS is justified in examining their 501©4 status. It also is justified in giving special scrutiny to new applications from organizations seeking 501©4 status.
The evidence that we have now is that the IRS has focused on right-wing organization with names that include such search terms as “Tea Party,” “Patriot,” or “Constitutional.” Is there any justifiable reason to focus on the right-wing applicants? With trepidation, one could argue that right-wing organizations pose more of a threat to our political system. These are the organizations and people who oppose reasonable gun control legislation, support specious wars, and blatantly support expanding the rights and privileges of the wealthy rather than the disenfranchised. Were they to gain control of the government, they could well impose policies that would be very harmful to the vast preponderance of American citizens, as well as the citizens of other countries.
There may have been a time in the 1960s and 1970s when the left posed more of a threat of civil unrest and violence than the right did. However, since right-wing acts of violence in the 1990s such as Oklahoma City, Waco, and Ruby Ridge and their concurrent stridency about guns, the right has come to pose far more of a threat. For that reason, it could be argued that the IRS had reason to scrutinize them more closely than the left. While this does not excuse the discriminatory action on the part of the IRS, it may in part provide an explanation.
This is not the time for us to retract the powers of the IRS to thoroughly investigate the conduct of 501©4 organizations and others seeking to receive 501©4 status. They are doing more to corrupt politics with excessive and untraceable money than any other organizations or individuals. They must be tightly regulated.
The Republicans in the 113th Congress have clearly exhibited that they have no interest in operating in a fact-based and fair manner. They have also shown no interest in governing; they oppose virtually everything that Democrats propose, including funding for entitlements, for social welfare, even for defense. They also stymie efforts to appoint judges and cabinet officials. Essentially, they have no interest in governing. For that reason, they have forfeited the right to be involved in investigating how our government works and what reforms are needed. If they want in on the process, they have to take interest in and action regarding the real governance of the country, not just the politics. We cannot let them have the leadership role in investigating the IRS. Yes, there are some Democrats who are no more logical than Republicans. But within the ranks of the Democrats, there is a clear majority who provide the necessary reason to clean up this mess. As progressives, our role is not to further demonize the Republicans; rather it is to act as honest servants of the people and reform what has gone wrong. Republicans are always welcome to join the cause when they accept a few basic fundamentals of governance as they have until recent history. Regrettably, the Republicans currently control the House and have filibuster powers in the Senate. It’s up to the American people of reason to seek reason in the solution to these current problems.