Both Patrick's recent post marking the birthday of Malcom X, and Steve's post before it questioning just how 'scandalous' the IRS pseudoscandal really is, invite some reflection on President Obama's reaction to the mentioned pseudoscandal thus far. In my humble opinion, that reaction has been the very contrary of what it ought to be, and this might owe partly to a handicap that many have long suggested the President might labor under. If that perception of handicap does indeed partly explain the President's weak showing right now, I very much hope he will recognize that he has nothing to worry about, then reclaim his spine and resume his hard work for the nation. Let me explain.
To begin with, let us refresh ourselves on the backdrop against which the President has recently professed 'outrage' and accepted the resignation of acting commissioner Steven Miller at the IRS. There is so much irony, injustice, and outright lying in these latest Republican and 'Tea Party' attacks on the IRS and the President that it is difficult to know where to begin in demonstrating their empirical falsehood and sheer venality.
First, note that the head of the IRS at the time in question (2010-2012) was a Bush appointee who, as a Republican, had much more reason to 'target' Tea Party groups for scrutiny concerning their right to tax subsidization for non-qualifying, avowedly political activities than did any Democrat. For the 'Tea Party' circa 2010, recall, was to the Republican Party much what Ralph Nader was to Al Gore circa 2000 - a spoiler.
Second, note that huge numbers of these new 'Tea Party' groups - groups named, by the way, lest we forget, for a famous act of criminal vandalism and property-destruction in the name of an anti-tax protest - began suddenly claiming tax exempt status during the time in question, requiring IRS verification of the groups' charitable rather than political status. Even if deliberations at the IRS over how best to meet these new verification needs antedated by some months the actual influx of applications, as suggested by the Washington Post late last week, this would hardly be surprising given how likely it clearly became that such screening would be necessary once these groups began forming in 2009 and the Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United decision virtually invited them to begin seeking 501(c)(4) status.
Third, House Republicans had by this time cut funding for the IRS to the point (check the numbers - they're shocking) that such verification was nearly impossible without using streamlined 'profiling' methods commonly employed in law enforcement - methods, by the way, that self-professed 'conservatives' regularly endorse when it is African Americans or putative 'Islamist terrorists' who are to be profiled rather than racist rightwing hate groups and gun-toting tax-evaders. This fund-cutting of course followed a familiar pattern of Republican slash and burn tactics where the drowing of government in Grover Norquist's bathtub is concerned. Indeed, that other preposterous pseudoscandal which has plagued news outlets in recent months - 'Benghazi!' - itself stems directly from the Republican House's slashing of funding for US embassy needs abroad, and is itself being used now to 'target' the front-runner for 2016's forthcoming Presidential Campaign, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
(And this is of course not to mention the recently revealed real scandal, to the effect that Republican operatives actually doctored White House documents which they sent to ABC News last week with a view to slandering the Obama Administration - why is this not being 'investigated'?)
Fourth, and as mysteriously unmentioned by 'conservatives,' the IRS used the same methods to screen for progressive, not just 'Tea Party' groups, while Republican Senator McConnell is on record as claiming that such progressive groups should be specifically 'targeted.' You can watch and listen to McConnell on this point here, at 3.12 minutes in.
Fifth, the IRS ultimately (and to my mind, bizarrely) approved the tax-exempt status of all of the 'Tea Party' groups whose applications for tax subsidization it reviewed, while denying that status to some of the progressive groups that applied (just as Republican Senator McConnell recommended). You can read about that in painstaking detail on the front page of yesterday's Sunday NYT.
Sixth, as we all know, Republicans have fought the President at every turn to prevent his restoring equity to the tax code in the name of both justice and budget-balancing. So devoted have they been to this cause that they have actually made history by forcing the nation's first-ever credit downgrade by a bond rating agency in 2011, all in the name of economically illiterate 'austerity' policies that have brought Europe to virtual ruin. The Republicans finally lost this ongoing battle decisively in November 2012, yet they are now on record as being willing to pursue their ends, in the immortal words of Malcolm X, 'by any means necessary' - e.g., through appropriations refusals and false 'scandal' manufacture - when they lose, as they increasingly are doing now, at the ballot box.
Seventh, the same holds true in respect of the President's signature health insurance reform legislation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010, which Republicans have now voted 37 times to undo or 'repeal,' and which is administered in part by the IRS. Indeed, that the latest attack on the IRS is simply a new front in this ceaseless guerilla war against res judicata and the ACA is essentially admitted both by Mr. McConnell in yesterday's Meet the Press interview linked to above, and in a host of similar Sunday morning speaches by and talkshow interviews with other Republican legislators that aired yesterday. (Not a single Republican speaker or interviewee in recent days has failed to highlight the shrunken IRS's role in administering their favorite 'big government power grab,' 'Obamacare.')
And finally eighth, the Republicans are also on record as having explicitly adopted a srategy, immediately following the 2008 election and during the months preceeding the President's taking office, of preventing the President's accomplishing anything at all while in office - even things that they themselves might agree to be good for the country - simply in order to enhance their own future electoral prospects. Republicans have even regularly admitted this, apparently taking a chortling pride in it, as can be read about in further detail here. This is of course fully as astonishing as was Republican willingness to ruin the nation's credit rating. It is nothing short of a clucking, Cheshire cat style admission of intent to sabotage the nation itself in the name of future partisan prospects - the very contrary of that repudiation of 'faction' which so characterized the ideals of the Founders whom Republicans and Tea Party types comically purport to admire and follow.
Add all of this together, throw in now-routine Republican filibuster abuse in the Senate and attempts to prevent voting during electoral seasons in racial minority districts, and you see at once what the latest Republican pseudo-scandals are really about. They are about nothing more than continuing, systematically planned Republican 'dirty tricks' in the name of undermining national tax policy, health care policy, economic policy more broadly and even the democratic process itself. They are simply the latest tactic, in other words, in the ongoing Republican strategy of systematic sabotage.
Against this backdrop, I submit, the only real offense of which the President is guilty is either Pollyannish blindness, low energy, or cowardice. And this takes me to the putative 'handicap' to which I referred above.
Why in heaven's name did the President presumably ask for and certainly accept the resignation of a decent man, Mr. Miller, over at the understaffed, underfunded IRS last week? Why did he stand by in silence while grandstanding and outright lying Republican House members publically humiliated this decent public servant in bad faith showtrial 'hearings' last week? And why does the President not change course now, now that Republican intentions are so transparent?
Many will recall that, during the 2008 electoral cycle, some commentators worried that then Senator Obama would have to take care to avoid evoking the 'angry black man' stereotype in his campaigning, and that this need to appear 'more Martin than Malcolm' might render him vulnerable to unscrupulous campaign tactics on the part of the McCain campaign. After all, it would require a form of unilateral disarmament. This worry became all the more manifest when some began attacking the then Senator for his past attendance at the church of the so-called 'firebrand' Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and when the self-congratulatorily know-nuthin' Republican Vice Presidential candidate began suggesting that Senator 'Barack Hussain Obama' liked to 'pal[ ] around with terrorists' such as the educator William Ayres.
While the then future President fortunately weathered this ugly storm in 2008, during his first term - especially during its first half - he seemed often to continue to act as if he still had to bend over backwards to seem more Martin than Malcolm, even after he had long since come by many to be considered 'post-racial.' So, for example, very shortly after the Fox 'News' clown Glenn Beck began relentlessly slandering White House 'Green Energy Czar' Van Jones in 2009, the President accepted Jones's resignation. Then, shortly after perennially angry Andrew Breitbart began slandering Shirley Sherrod of the Department of Agriculture the following year, the same happened. And of course, all the while, the President continually sought to demonstrate his cooperative and compromising spirit by preemptively surrendering all of his principal druthers ahead of all negotiations with Republicans on matters of financial reform, health insurance reform, tax policy and budget policy more generally.
None of this placating and preemptively compromising behavior, of course, availed the President - or the causes of justice and national economic recovery - anything. For the President was dealing with nothing more than political boors - bestial types who view good faith and friendliness as no more than weakness inviting more bullying. And happily, for a time, the President seemed to have figured this out.
Upon discovering that Breitbart had outright lied about Ms. Sherrod, for example, the President's Department of Agriculture offered her a new position. And as the 'Occupy' movement proved it safe to discuss plutocracy and worsening inequality again just as the 2012 electoral cycle began picking up in late 2011, the President grew increasingly vocal in his Teddy-Roosevelt-channeling commitment to restoring the American middle class, even if this meant holding firm on allowing some of the profoundly unjust and profligate Bush era tax cuts for plutocrats to expire. And then, best of all, upon decisively winning reelection this past November, the President seemed virtually a new man, ready to push hard for what he professed to believe and no longer worried about latent racialist fears in 'post-racial' America.
What, then, has happened? Why do we seem to be right back to 2010 only four months into the President's new term?
I confess, I do not know. Perhaps the President is tired. Or perhaps he is disgusted and demoralized by the recent failure of new gun 'background check' regulation to get past yet another Senate Republican abuse of the philibuster. What ever the cause, I think we must all pray - and now urge - that the President return to his January 2013 mentality at once. He should not be professing 'surprise' and 'outrage' at the IRS, or acting as an accomplice to venal Republicans seeking to gut that essential government instrumentality - and with it, his own signature ACA - even further than they have done since the 1990s. He should not be throwing Mr. Miller under the bus of grotesque Republican posturing and bullying. And, finally, he should not be acting as if he were aloof or 'above the fray.' 'Transformational' leaders don't duck frays; they win them - precisely because their causes are just.
What then should the President do? And what should the other forces of light - in this case, the Democrats - do? I think it's very simple. They should 'come clean with the American people,' as all of those ersatz-'outraged' Republicans often put it, and call out the current Republican tactics for what they are. The President should hold a frank, thorough discussion with the public, in the form of a long address, interview, press conference, or some combination thereof, in which he begins with Mr. McConnell's first articulation of the Republican scorched earth policy immediately after the 2008 election and proceeds from episode to episode, demonstrating in stark detail the sabotage policy that has been at work in literally every Republican action and tactic of the past four years.
He should sprinkle the discussion with all telling numbers - number of IRS employees in 1998 and now, number of resorts to the philibuster, number of agency posts and judgeships still unfilled, magnitude of cuts to agency budgets, amounts of campaign donations from sectional interests to Republican candidates for office, etc., etc., etc. He should paint the entire picture in bold strokes and with full narrative sweep, finally closing with both a demand that Republicans begin actually joining in governing rather than sabotaging all governance and a request that the public join him in this demand. Call the Republican tactics for what they are. And do it every single hour of every single day until it becomes the subject of the national discussion, as well it ought. For this is the scandal - literally the only true scandal. As it has been since late November of 2008.
Meanwhile, and in this same spirit, the Democratic Senate should complement the President's efforts by holding 'hearings' of its own to supplement and correct the Republican House's bad faith showtrial proceedings. It should call before it all private political 'operatives' and 'consultants' with whom the Republican 'leadership' has met since late 2008, requesting enlightenment as to every detail of the scorched earth, propaganda and sabotage strategy that has been Republican 'governance' policy since losing the 2008 election. This should be easy, in view, once again, of how proud these self-satisfied creatures seem ever to be in discussing the successes thus far of their tactics.
The Senate should also, of course, conduct a very public inquest into how Republican operatives came literally to doctor White House documents released to ABC, with a view to falsely incriminating the Administration in connection with the 'Benghazi' nonscandal. And it should commence at once to change the philibuster rules to put an end once and for all to antimajoritarianism in the Senate. Again, the goal should be to show all of this to constitute the scandal. For again, that is precisely what it is. The Republican sabotage strategy, at work since 2008, is the scandal. The only scandal.
All of this, it seems to me, should be done at once, while there is still time to salvage the first half of the President's second term. And the President should coordinate with the Democrats in both chambers on all of it, while also compiling a comprehensive agenda of all helpful measures that the Administration can constitutionally take without antidemocratic House approval (recall that even the House is now undemocratic, inasmuch as gerrymandered districts yielded a slim Republican majority notwithstanding over 1.4 million more votes' having been cast for Democrats than Republicans). It should also go without saying that the President and the Democratic Caucus should now be working quite energetically to ensure a return of the House to the Democrats - the one party that still believes in governance - in 2014, so that the process of full economic recovery can be well and truly completed before the President leaves office. Only then will his presidency be truly 'transformational.'
Oh, and finally, lest I forget: the President should rescind his acceptance of Mr. Miller's resignation from the IRS - and offer a new position while at it to Van Jones for good measure. (What better symbol of his finally having learned his lesson?) Here's hoping he does this 'with all deliberate speed' - if possible, as early as tomorrow morning.