IRS Outrage Crosses Party Lines

“McCarthyism … the use of unfair investigatory or accusatory methods in order to suppress opposition.” -The American Heritage Dictionary

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has admitted to targeting conservative groups since 2010. Many of the “tea party” groups had filed lawsuits, and both Congress and the media knew of them as early as 2011, but there was apparently no taste for digging into the scandal until now.

Now, suddenly, as more details emerge, this is a big deal. Outrage even has crossed party lines, a rarity in Washington – or anywhere – these days.

Likewise, as Americans become more aware of this huge breach of trust and overreach by the IRS, the nation’s most powerful government agency, perhaps their “I-R-E” will be raised. Transcending politics, this scandal speaks to the heart of what our Founding Fathers feared, a government dedicated to its own power, not the people’s freedom from it.

The IRS has been afforded vast and far-reaching abilities to investigate you and me … just because. IRS agents have a necessary job to do, and of course the vast number of them – more than 100,000 and growing – do their often-thankless job in a courteous and professional manner. They audit people to find tax cheats, and apparently there are quite a few among us who don’t pay at all or enough (famously, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, U.S. Olympic skier Lindsey Vaughn, Leona Helmsley, Willie Nelson, Lionel Ritchie, Wesley Snipes, Nicolas Cage, Richard Pryor, Sophia Loren, baseball star Darrell Strawberry, Judy Garland).

These agents take orders from higher up the food chain, and they’re not what this scandal is about. This one’s about IRS higher ups singling out, in this case conservative or tea party, groups, to squelch their ability to form 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations while at the same time approving liberal/progressive group applications.

IRS officials have admitted and apologized for using key words to target hundreds of such groups. Especially long, complex and privacy-invading questions filled these groups’ targeted applications: questions such as “What books do you read?” and write a book report on one of those books, or “What do you say when you are praying?”

Those who did manage to complete their applications were held up for months. Many of these grassroots groups were formed by small-town citizens who had never been involved in politics.

In a May 12 New York Times article, “I.R.S. Focus on Conservatives Gives G.O.P. an Issue to Seize On,” reporters Jonathan Weisman and Matthew L. Wald report on a 12-page timeline from the inspector general’s audit obtained by the Times.

The audit found that besides only targeting names like “Tea Party,” “Patriots” or “9/12 Project,” they also looked for “applications involving political-sounding names” like “We the People” or “Take Back the Country.”

In the 1950s, almost a decade after World War II ended and with a Cold War heating up, there was fear – not entirely unfounded – that Communism was infiltrating our nation. U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who sat on the Senate Committee on Government Affairs with a flair for the dramatic, whipped up a national anti-communist scare that, along with other Americans, caught in its snare Hollywood actors, directors and producers, leading to ruined careers and, in some cases, jail terms.

Five years of intimidation, investigation and false accusation accomplished the intended chilling affect.

Henceforth, the practice of the government accusing and targeting political opposition is called McCarthyism.

As more details of the scandal are revealed, perhaps history will conclude that McCarthyism has reared its ugly head once again.

How widespread is this scandal, why did it take the media so long to report it, and how far up the Executive Branch does it go? All Americans deserve answers – especially before the IRS assumes the huge responsibility for Obamacare.