The resignation of a top IRS official, Lois Lerner, in September will likely not be the last we hear about unsettling and disheartening violations that occurred in that agency over the last few years. Most concerning is that the political violations against anti-Obama groups occurred in the midst of a presidential election campaign. If there are two institutions Americans want to trust, they are our elections and tax systems. Trust for both is now in jeopardy in the minds of many people.
After she intentionally misled Congress and the American public about the deliberate political targeting of conservative groups, Lois Lerner retired from the IRS. Lerner oversaw the division of the IRS that dealt with tax-exempt applications from political groups. Lerner has been on paid leave for the last several months. What makes Lerner’s departure significant is that she is the first individual at the IRS to pay a public price for the scandal. Documents released last month confirm that dozens of conservative groups were also unfairly targeted by the IRS and had their fair process delayed or denied because they used anti-Obama rhetoric in their materials.
Congress performed its duties and demanded the executive branch bring more facts to the surface, but the administration has shifted its story, has repeatedly confused the facts, and has laid blame on mid-level IRS employees.
Obama has not taken responsibility for the intentional crimes and wrongdoing of people in his own circles. Instead, IRS top officials, at the direction of the White House, have deflected blame for the events and testified that certain phantom “rogue” agents were to blame.
The facts are now clearer: Testimony from several involved agents and also recent internal documents confirmed senior officials within the Obama administration were involved in the evaluation and scrutiny of conservative organizations’ applications for tax-exempt status. They directly ordered IRS agents to make it more difficult for Obama’s opponents to operate.
Unlike other mishaps in the second term of this president, the IRS scandal especially undermines the trust of federal institutions and Obama. The IRS was widely seen as a nonpartisan operation before this occurred. The IRS is one of the most widely disliked agencies, and thus, the corruption there only solidifies distrust among citizens. IRS officials’ actions undermine confidence in the work of federal employees and eventually hurt all federal agencies.
The IRS and our federal financial tax collectors have an impact on more Americans than nearly any other government agency. The culture that accepts this unethical and irresponsible behavior within the public sphere must be corrected. Washington-style politics have become so foreign to the rest of the country that public trust of our leaders has never been lower. No president, Republican or Democrat, should ever be able to use a federal agency to protect himself politically or to attack those in our democracy who disagree with them. These actions are un-American.
But the IRS isn’t alone. More details have emerged about Obama’s failure to keep our diplomats safe in Benghazi and his administration’s intentional spying of AP reporters last year. This pattern of abuse by our federal government is troubling and undermines citizens’ trust in government. All of us deserve an explanation from President Obama about why his administration used its vast powers to commit these misdeeds.
Politically, this could result in damage to Democrats in 2014. The IRS scandal alone likely isn’t enough to make voters rethink support for liberals next fall, but a trend that points to a pattern could hurt supporters of Obama in Congress and potentially cost Democrats the U.S. Senate. In Minnesota, distrust of Obama could result in lost Democrat seats in the Minnesota Legislature and the replacement of Governor Mark Dayton – a strong public supporter of Obama’s agenda, including Obamacare. New York Times political calculator Nate Silver wrote that several factors make this year’s flubs by Obama’s government damaging: “It has the potential to harm Democrats’ performance in next year’s midterm elections, partly by motivating a strong turnout from the Republican base.”
Until the dangers of partisan politics are extracted from our federal government’s operations, American taxpayers cannot be certain their civil liberties are secure or their taxes are being impartially collected. This certainly isn’t the change all of us were promised.