Liberals Should Worry About the IRS Scandal

Anyone who cares about democracy should be disturbed that "respect the Constitution" now sounds Republican

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It turns out that the Tea Party activists who’ve been ranting about IRS abuses of power were on to something. The taxman was engaged in ideological profiling. Conservatives are apoplectic. And their outrage, even if exaggerated for political effect, is justified.

Liberals, though, should also be outraged. First, this kind of profiling is indefensible and even dangerous. Second, the scandal plays into some of the worst stereotypes about government – that it’s overweening, prying, ham-handed, untrustworthy. As right-wingers now relish pointing out, the IRS is the agency responsible for enforcing key parts of the Affordable Care Act. If you’re a fan of Obamacare, the timing is terrible.

But the main reason liberals should be outraged – indeed, embarrassed – is that the scandal reveals just how much ground they’ve lost in American politics in recent decades. Most of the media coverage has focused on the fact that IRS officials used “Tea Party” and “patriot” as their search terms of choice in targeting political groups over their non-profit status. Overlooked are some of the other shortcuts, phrases like “making America a better place to live” or “criticizing how the country is being run” or “educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”

It’s bad enough for progressives that the word “patriot” in 2013 so obviously signifies “conservative.” But it’s downright damning that talk of social and economic reform and of the Constitution itself can now also be considered right-wing.

(MORE: The Real IRS Scandal)

Things got this way because from Reagan to Gingrich to Fox News and the Tea Party, right-wingers have systematically and relentlessly adopted the language and iconography of American patriotism. They’ve claimed the flag and the history of the founding of the Republic as their own.

During that time, left-wingers responded too often by walking away from the contest. They laughed off the shameless jingoism of conservatives. They made patriotism ironic, the way Colbert’s giant eagle and giant flag are meant to be ridiculous. When the Tea Party first came on the scene, progressives rolled their eyes at all the tricorner hats and colonial garb. They didn’t ask themselves how they might don the mantle of love of country. In a sense, then, those hapless IRS bureaucrats in Cincinnati were performing their questionable task in an unquestionably rational way: liberals just don’t proclaim patriotism very much any more, so it was plausible to conclude that any organization using such rhetoric while seeking tax-exempt status must be a conservative outfit.

(MORE: The IRS Was Wrong — But Many Political Groups Should Not Be Tax-Exempt)

This is trouble. When words of the nation’s creedal origins and civic identity become mere partisan code, it’s bad not only for the party that no longer has access to them; it’s bad for the nation. Anyone who cares about civic education and the integrity of democracy has to be disturbed that in the word association game of contemporary politics, “Defend the Bill of Rights” and “Respect the Constitution” sound Republican.

The answer for liberals is not to start sprinkling “patriot” and “Constitution” and “flag” throughout their materials. It’s to connect the story of their agenda to the deeper story of this country’s arc and aspirations, the way one successful progressive, Barack Obama, has done all his career – and the way effective conservatives do today. American politics is a continuous argument about who can best redeem the founding promise. When liberals join that argument, they might benefit. America certainly will.

MORE: Not Nixon, Exactly

75 comments
zoom24
zoom24

The conclusions of this article are misguided.  Organizations who seek to eliminate supports for the poor in order to cut taxes for those more successful may well identify themselves as patriotic, the hypocrisy of marketing is rampant.  Just look at the naming of bills coming before congress and you will see - those calling for a 'Patriot act' are not necessarily looking to protect freedoms.   Those promotine 'Citizens United ' are not seeking to enhance representation of citizens.   If you are proposing that we should not stop to consider a proposal if it adopts a title including 'freedom' or 'Patriot' I would suggest you are naïve - and evaluation the goals of these proposals is not an indication of the abandonment of those principles - but an indication of desire to protect them from those who would usurp the image projected by these ideals.  

BenjaminDeBeers
BenjaminDeBeers

Once you take the 5th amendment and then start saying I’m innocent and have never lied before any government body you are now testifying, the precedence has been made on several occasions. It’s true that you can’t take the stand as a criminal defendant to give your side of the story and then go quiet during cross-examination. What happens when Issa brings her back and the questions begin? Could be that she’ll cave and start answering, but I assume her lawyer will tell her to take the Fifth again, in which case it’s Issa’s move. He could try to hold her in contempt, which would probably ignite a court battle. In any event she would lose her $170,000 a year job, be fined and never hold any government job again. Hopefully she would serve jail time for years unless she agrees to cooperate with congress and identify White House Chicago Cronies who ordered this national embarrassment, scandal, wrong doing, illegal discriminatory actions to name a few.

900662652
900662652

The author is absolutely right - Liberals should be outraged by this as well. Look, I don't agree with extreme right nor do I agree with extreme left. But the IRS scandal, to me, is truly troubling. Nearly as troubling is the public reaction to it. Excuse after excuse is raised and mental gymnastics are done in order to justify what happened.

What I see less frequently is actual logic. The Progressive Movement initially got many of its ideas from the philosophies of the Enlightenment (one of which is reason). Reason, however, is not being used.

I don't want to sound like a paranoid anti-government kind of guy but this scandal alongside the AP subpoenas are truly Orwellian in nature.

I am not saying the right wing has some kind of halo and has always been innocent since its birth in the 19th century. I am simply echoing what the author of this article is saying: regardless of your political affiliation this should truly piss any American off. I'm both pissed off and worried.

HiramJGoldstein
HiramJGoldstein

Liberals didn't just "walk away from the conversation." They have, over the years, taken great pains to remind us that the Constitution was written by white men who owned slaves, with the implication that anyone who says the Constitution is important must be a racist.

The overt affection many liberals show for socialist radicals like Hugo Chavez and Che Guevara doesn't help. Marxism and the American project are fundamentally at odds. If you think Fidel Castro is heroic, odds are you probably also think the Bill of Rights is evil...which means no, you're *not* a patriot.

GlennJericho
GlennJericho

Want to know how liberals lost the connection to the word "patriot"? There are three main reasons:

1. They are the first to blame America for EVERY evil in the world (justified or not)

2. They have despised the original meaning of the Constitution and demeaned the Founders since the time of Pres. Wilson

3. There is a not so small contingent of liberals, professors and 60s radicals that adamantly proclaim that "patriotism = fascism"

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

When the teabaggers hijacked the word, it took on a new meaning.  When I hear someone describe themselves as a patriot now, I think lunatic fringe and vacuous non sequiturs.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

As insightful as the article is, what needs to happen is that the conservatives need to stop using Patriot at all.  They are nationalists.  They don't adhere to the ideals of the American constitution, the American way of life.  They adhere to the notion of a political ideology as applied to those things.

There is also a "patriot" movement in the country.  This movement, specifically, isn't patriotic or espousing a patriot's point of view.  They are nationalists and even religious zealots.  Most who use "patriot tag" aren't actually patriotic, and therein lies the problem.  Some are tax anarchists.  Some are libertarians (which fall under the anarchist tag since they believe, in essence, that each person is a government unto themselves and should act responsibly (as if that can ever happen)).  Some are racists.  Some are actually patriots who believe in America as a concept and not in a political ideology shaping it.

The misapplication of "Patriot" by the majority of conservative (and anarchist) groups in the country makes it an easy target.  Most isn't all, but if someone called themselves something they're patently not, it's difficult to differentiate between them when it comes to enforcing laws and codes.

But what this person sees as a call to liberals to take care, what I see is America working.  It has checks and balances.  This was found out.  The facts of what happened will come to light.  People will be punished.  This was wrong, and the system worked to discover it and correct it.  The lesson has been learned (at least for now).  America is stronger for it simply because the system worked as it is supposed to.  If there is any lesson to be taken away from this it's to be truthful about yourselves and open about your goals.  That goes for liberals, conservatives, anarchists and government.

It would help if you owned a dictionary, too.

bartpg
bartpg

Tax exempt status should always be relatively difficult to get, as it is all too often abused by groups of all stripes. Profiling can be pejorative, but only when it has to potential to harm or otherwise take away a "person"'s rights. Many of the groups in question here openly advertise having tax revolt as a core tenet.

If however there is any evidence that the IRS asked for information not directly pertinent to the investigation of a company's exempt status or application, then we would have a problem. If they were otherwise "collecting information" on these groups, as so many outrage, to what end? What branch of government would they turn such info over to, and what would be the mechanism for this. This is the type of broad conspiracy people may be looking for, the one that cannot reasonably exist in today's world.

Sorry, its just not as exciting as one might think . . .


thinkkoolaid
thinkkoolaid

well, these groups SHOULD BE looked at with more scrutiny!  They are advocating the overthrow of the United Stated Government using fake patriotic sounding names!  How obvious is this.  More noise and nonsense from the "patriots", "constitutionalists", etc...phony and subversive!  someone has got to keep on eye on groups that want to overthrow the government.  

Coopers_Basement
Coopers_Basement

"For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country..." - Michelle Obama, Feb 18, 2008, Madison, WI

If liberals/progressives wish to reclaim the mantle of patriotism, they might try actually being proud of the country, rather than always tearing it down and claiming it is and always has been unworthy. Yes, there is a lot to not be proud of, but there is also tremendous accomplishment - something you would never know listening to today's progressives.

Make your rallying cry "We have accomplished a lot, but we can be better!, not "This place sucks and is the focus of evil in the world" and you might have a chance of reclaiming patriotism. Until then, forget it.

BrianFleming
BrianFleming

and Time Magazine is a part of the reason for this.  anyone who pays for this rag needs to re-examine why.

Discursions
Discursions

This is what makes Time magazine such a joke.  Remember what they're describing, the Obama administration using the IRS to harass his political enemies.  And so look at the first paragraph: those subject to this abuse are ranting, apoplectic, and exaggerated in their outrage.  Time simply loves Obama so much,even when he behaves like Nixon on steroids, it's the people on his enemies list who deserve scorn.  No wonder only the low information liberal would pay for this party organ rag.

andrew.d.large
andrew.d.large

The TEA Party is a tax-protest movement. Tax-protest movements are were political tax-dodgers hang out. 

This wasn't political. This was a case of law enforcement investigators going to the smoke looking for the fire. 


ZackShoemaker
ZackShoemaker

Perhaps this is also a consequence of having one party form an Oligarchy behind the executive branch, and the other an oligarchy behind the speaker of the house. This two-party system is a bubble, that democracy will burst.