Putting the IRS ‘Scandal’ into Perspective

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    Like too many events since the beginning of the Obama presidency, various attacks on the administration by the Republicans end up being about less than what they at first seemed, though the hoopla that accompanies the initial charges is frequently deafening.  Think about the attack on ACORN through a disingenuously edited video tape or the later attack on Shirley Sherrod, selectively using words from a speech of hers in order to convey a message that was not hers at all. The IRS “scandal” is another case in point.

    The first bits of information to which we were exposed were aimed at leading us to believe that the IRS was attacking conservative groups.  President Obama acted with outrage saying that such an alleged attack was inexcusable.  But then, as each day has passed, additional information rises to the surface and the “scandal” becomes a bit more complicated.  First and foremost, it now appears that the IRS did not target conservative groups alone.  In fact, the conservative/Tea Party groups that were under scrutiny were only one third of the groups that were being challenged.

    Other groups that were exposed to the same sorts of challenges included liberal and progressive organizations as well as a few organizations that were, apparently, not political at all.  To the extent to which the conservative groups were being observed at all, it probably can be directly connected to the sudden rise of the Tea Party formations and their obvious political agenda.

    While there are serious questions that need to be asked of the IRS regarding their methodology, there appears to be little evidence of the sort of anti-conservative witch-hunt that right-wing pundits suggest is underway.  Those ultra-conservatives who are attempting to make the IRS “scandal” out to be something akin to Watergate have actually lost touch with both history and reality.

    What may be more important in the midst of this “scandal” is the hypocrisy of those Republicans who are sounding the fire alarm.  The NAACP’s former Board Chairman, Julian Bond, made this precise point.  It was only a few years ago—under the George W. Bush administration—that the NAACP found itself under the gun with the IRS.  Yet where were these Republican lovers of freedom?  I remember very little coming from their side of the aisle protesting what was clearly a blatant political move by a Republican administration.

    Let us not stop there.  Various instruments of the US government that are supposed to exist for non-political purposes have at various times been used—under Republican and Democratic administrations—in order to suppress or discourage dissent.  Worse, there have been institutions explicitly created in order to eliminate dissent entirely.  One case in point of the latter is the infamous program of the FBI known as COINTELPRO (the Counter Intelligence Program).  COINTELPRO was used in the 1960s and early 1970s as a means to infiltrate and disrupt social justice and social protest movement across the board, including but not limited to the Black Freedom Movement.  The Republican Party was not at the lead in criticizing such programs.

    This is all to say that before anyone jumps to conclusions, certainly in the midst of the IRS “scandal,” it is worth doing a bit more investigating.  President Obama should do likewise.  I appreciate his interest in demonstrating his fairness, but it is also worth his pointing out, in no uncertain terms, when and where the Republicans are manufacturing crises—whether with respect to the IRS or the budget deficit—in order to advance their own regressive agenda.

    Just a thought.

    Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions.  Follow him at www.billfletcherjr.com.

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