'CAUSE I'M THE TAXMAN:
Political Scandal involving the IRS might
well harm the GOP as much as the Democrats
Friday, May 17, 2013
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
Let me tell you how it will be...
What was originally most publicly decried, by the press spokesman for the Administration of Republican President Richard Nixon (at the time seeking re-election to a second term in the White House), as but a "third-rate burglary" into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate apartment/office complex along the Potomac in Washington, DC took place in mid-June 1972, the weekend immediately after my sophomore year in high school had come to an end. Two summers later, between my graduation from high school and my arrival on the campus of Boston University that Fall of 1974, President Nixon resigned and newly installed President Gerald Ford thereafter famously declared that "our long, national nightmare is over".
And, in between, was much political drama- where not also political theater- including that morning in mid-July 1973 when I spit out Kellogg's 'Sugar Pops' (as they were, back then, still called) in the general direction of the family television set downstairs, so surprised was I (as was just about everyone else in these United States of America, let alone around the globe) to hear that President Nixon actually had a taping system in place and operating in the White House!
So the dear reader of this piece should easily see that, having lived through (as well as having followed quite closely [the hearings before the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities was "must see TV" for me during the Summer of '73]) what was- albeit arguably- one of the worst political scandals in American History and, in addition, having first become a voter while that whole 'Watergate' vortex was still well swirling (I had turned 18 years old as Spring 1974 was, indeed, springing and- thanks to the recently ratified 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution- was, thereby, able to cast my first "vote in anger" [;-)] in the New Jersey Primaries the first Tuesday of June that year [on my way home from Final Exams in high school, in fact]), my own "John Q. Citizen" political antennae tend to be rather attuned to such things as might now well remind me of those rather strange days now four decades past.
But- admittedly amateur historian that I am as well- I am also sensitive to when things are not (or, at least, not yet!) quite like what, on the surface, appear to be similar events from the past.
It is with the above caveat in mind that I now consider the still-developing political scandal surrounding reports of agents of the Federal Internal Revenue Service having used political "buzz words"- sorted with the help of computer technology- in order to then target various and sundry political groups seeking, or already asserting, tax-exempt status as not-for-profit organizations (organizations that, at first glance, appear to be primarily- where not solely- politically conservative [thus, opposed to much of President Obama's own policies and agenda], considering that such "buzz words" were such as 'patriot', 'spending', 'taxation' and the like [especially in an era when conservatives- and, in particular, those seen (rightly or wrongly) as being associated with the so-called 'Tea Party' movement- have so co-opted the very term "patriot" (whereas, after all, *I* am not at all associated with the Tea Party and, yet, *I* am an American patriot!)]), the obvious motivation being that such organizations would be under far more scrutiny, as regarded their own claims of tax exemption, than other (if only presumably, more liberal) political groups which would not come up as a result of such "triggers".
When- during the course of the very events leading, within a matter of weeks, to the resignation of President Nixon- the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives (which had, as one of its legal advisors, a then-young attorney named Hillary Rodham [later- as Mrs. Clinton- to be First Lady of the United States, a United States Senator and, eventually, U.S. Secretary of State]) approved Articles of Impeachment against that President, said Articles included the following [in Article II (1)]:
He [President Nixon] has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavored to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposes not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.
Clearly, then, the presidential manipulation of information gleaned from that which happens to be filed with the Internal Revenue Service [IRS] may, in fact, rise to the level of those "high crimes and misdemeanors" of Article II, Section 4 of the Federal Constitution that, in turn, are the basis (apart from treason and bribery specifically mentioned in that constitutional provision) for determining just what might be an impeachable offense on the part of a President of the United States.
Having said this, however, it is still way too early to be so seriously calling for the impeachment of President Obama over this!
First of all, Impeachment itself is a legal procedure (one provided for, in general, by the Constitution but one in which the particulars are largely left to the Federal House of Representatives which is specifically empowered to approve Articles of Impeachment and the United States Senate that is responsible for trying the resultant Impeachment case) and, whatever else might be said, such legal formalities- not just the process itself but also defining just which "high crimes and misdemeanors" for which a President might even be so impeached.
Precedent is- as is the case in ordinary "live cases or controversies" brought before the Judiciary- ever useful, as well as most important and, while the Articles of Impeachment reported out of committee against President Nixon were never even considered in the lower house of Congress (this having been well mooted by Nixon's own resignation), the contents of Article II (1) within same are well considered in relation to this latest IRS-related scandal...
yet we are still well within the realm of that famous "central question... simply put" by then-Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr. (R-Tennessee), at the time serving as Ranking Minority Member of the aforementioned Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities which began its famous hearings in the Senate Caucus Room on the morning of 17 May 1973-- exactly 40 years to the day this very Commentary is first being posted to this website:
What did the President know, and when did he know it?
For well note that- in the very language of Article II (1) of those Articles of Impeachment- that Nixon was being accused of "acting personally" as well as "through his subordinates and agents" "in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens", etc.
Unless and until there be clear and convincing evidence that Barack Hussein Obama himself knew about such goings on, then this IRS scandal- however politically harmful it might be to his own Administration- is simply something that occurred- and, thereby, will have to be redressed- administratively within the Executive Branch (no matter how many hearings either chamber of Congress might hold about this matter!).
But, yes, Impeachment is also a political process... and, surely, such as might be well short of Impeachment is just as much, if not even more, so!
One Republican political adviser has already called the IRS scandal "gold" for Republicans within this 2014 Midterm Election cycle already well underway. Certainly, it is "gold" as might regard future GOP fundraising-- though it remains to be seen just how "golden" it might be (or not) electorally.
There is, in addition, at least one potential- where not also serious- danger for the Republican Party US (even were the IRS scandal to turn into something much bigger than it- right now, in the earliest stages after its initial revelation- seems to be) and, perhaps, this is best illustrated by the following "political parable" from my own long ago experience and observation. If this should prove to be nothing more than a mere heuristic exercise on my part, then so be it; hopefully, it will at least get the reader to think at least a little bit "outside the box" and away from the altogether simplistic "X [political leader, officeholder, Party, faction, wing, group] is in trouble and [his/her/its] opponent[s] are not" approach to scandals such as this most recent one:
More than a quarter century ago now- right smack dab in the middle of the 1980s- I was having a conversation with a politically astute friend (who happened to be a liberal Democrat) with an interest in History second only to my own. Republican President Ronald Reagan had, some months earlier, been re-elected to a second term in a landslide over Democrat Walter ("Fritz") Mondale who, himself, had served as Vice-President of the United States under President Jimmy Carter, the incumbent Reagan himself had defeated in order to win the Presidency in the first place four years before that.
The only serious scandal to have the potential to adversely affect the Reagan Administration (and- whatever else 'Iran-Contra' did, or did not do- it certainly did not adversely affect President Reagan's popularity!) was still in the future... thus, at the time of this conversation, there was nothing within the Reagan Presidency, as of yet, even remotely comparable to that 'Watergate' scandal of, by then, over a decade earlier.
In the course of this conversation (which, all in all, was about more mundane matters political here in America), I pointed out to my friend that "in the main, it was the Democrats who were more hurt by 'Watergate' ".
My friend gave me this quizzical look (clearly, he could not at all fathom how the Major Party that was not President Nixon's own could have been the more tainted by a Nixon Administration-originated cluster of scandal and lawbreaking), so I went on to explain that which I am about to explain to all of you now reading this piece:
The Democrats had already, in 1972, nominated then-Senator George McGovern (D-South Dakota) for the Presidency, a man who- despite his own more populist leanings- was, and quite visibly so, the champion of the more liberal-to-left wing of the Democratic Party US of that era. Thus, Republican Richard Nixon won re-election to the Presidency that year by a landslide largely because the Party that had nominated his opponent appeared to be too far left for the Nation as a whole (much in the same way that- eight years earlier- Democrat Lyndon Johnson won election to the Presidency in his own right by a landslide primarily because the Republicans had nominated a candidate, then-Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona), who was perceived, by the Nation, as being- at the time- too far to the right).
Under ordinary circumstances within the political vortex that is Republican Democracy, a Party so badly defeated usually begins a serious period of no little self-searching and deep inner reflection going into the next Election Cycle or few (indeed [though I could have not known any of this at the time I was talking with my friend], this is precisely what the Democrats did after 1984: first, by nominating a more [for lack of a better term] "technocratic" candidate in 1988 [then-Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, who could not at all escape the liberalism of Democrats from his own State (including himself) though, to be fair, any Democrat would have had a rough time against a then-Vice President George H.W. Bush effectively running as "Reagan's Third Term"] and, then, then-Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas [himself a product of the so-called 'New Democrat' movement, itself a political response among more centrist Democrats in the aftermath of the defeat of Walter Mondale])...
however, the Democrats of 1974 did not-- why?-- because they didn't really have to!
Instead, sporting bumper stickers reading such as 'Don't Blame Me: I'm from Massachusetts' (Massachusetts, along with the District of Columbia, being the only places where McGovern had picked up Electoral Votes in 1972), the Democrats "kept on keepin' on" and, thereby, well allowed the Grand Old Party to "take the hit" in the 1974 Midterms scheduled for some three months after Nixon had resigned the Presidency. And Jimmy Carter won the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination principally because- in a rather large field of candidates for that nomination (a field so large precisely because the Republican Party was still so politically wounded [and, at the same time, in the midst of an internecine political battle between incumbent President Ford and the notably more conservative Reagan], thus it was rather tempting to see the Democratic nomination as just about tantamount to election!)- he was the only one who seemed to realize that the then-still new McGovern/Fraser reforms (mandating, among other things, proportional distribution of National Convention delegates amongst contenders for the nomination) made a second- or even third-place finish in Primaries and/or Caucuses most helpful.
But, soon after Carter had won the White House, the political benefits the Democrats had once enjoyed from Republican association with 'Watergate' had already well run out: the so-called 'New Right' (without which you can't even spell "Newt Gingrich"! [;-)]) rose in the late 1970s (while President Carter and his men got into a long-running squabble with a Congress- led by Thomas "Tip" O'Neill [D-Massachusetts] as Speaker of the House and Robert Byrd [D-West Virginia] as Senate Majority Leader- over just which Democrats would now "call the shots" in Washington). For his part, Ronald Reagan tempered his more conservative rhetoric- without at all abandoning his conservative principles- thereby making himself more politically palatable to a center that itself had shifted (however slightly) to the right...
the problem for the Democrats was that they hadn't seemed to have noticed (interestingly, Massachusetts Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy's liberal challenge of an incumbent President Carter for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination wasn't so much old-line 1960s into 1970s Liberalism once more raising its head as Kennedy simply making sure that such wasn't at all forgotten in a political era in which neither Carter nor Reagan were 'liberal' in that manner-- thus, it can be fairly argued [as I myself already have opined elsewhere on this website] that Ted Kennedy was one of the few Democrats who, at the time, did notice!).
Even after Reagan's First Inaugural, many- if not most- Democrats looked upon the former Governor of California's accession to the Presidency as at least something of a political aberration... thus, there is a certain historical irony within the fact that, come 1984, Walter Mondale- just like his one-time Senate colleague, George McGovern a dozen years before- would also only win the Electoral Votes of a single State of the American Union plus the District of Columbia.
One is only left to, however idly, speculate as to just what the fortunes of the Democratic Party US come the 1980s might otherwise have been had 'Watergate' not come around to- thereafter (and for no little a period of time, too!)- allow them the luxury of a political fiction that there was no real need to at all much change.
And much the same political shoals may yet await today's Republicans:
For the Republican Party US was, in the immediate wake of the 2012 Elections, already engaging in that very soul-searching a Major Party very often needs to so engage in (especially in the wake of having lost two Presidential Elections to Barack Obama, a man who- for the Grand Old Party- is, or so they seemingly have generally believed to this point, a rather easy target)...
now, however, this has all pretty much just stopped.
With this IRS scandal now coming on the heels of Congressional investigation into the events of 11 September 2012 in Benghazi, Libya (and combined with the U.S. Department of Justice having unreasonably examined sources of information being gathered by the Associated Press), many a Republican- 'Tea Party' supported and/or oriented or no- is already wringing his or her hands in virtual glee, foreseeing- where not also even hoping- that such scandals (if not at least some others yet to be revealed, perhaps) will make any GOP electoral successes come 2014-- or even 2016!-- even easier.
Republicans, however, may well be advised to, nonetheless, keep in mind the following age-old adage/curse:
Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!