Welcome (Part-way) Back, Peggy

After 2008, I drifted away from reading Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal columns. She had drunk the Obama Kool-Aid, and her view of the world was increasingly Progressive-style happy face. If I want to read political fiction, I can find it on Amazon.

In recent months, Noonan has been returning to the real world, and once again I find myself nodding in agreement rather than boredom. But often, as with today’s column, An Antidote to Cynicism Poisoning, I start by nodding agreement and wind up frustrated at the vapidity of the conclusion.

Those who aren’t deeply distressed about the IRS suffer from a reluctance or inability to make distinctions, and a lack of civic imagination. . . . this scandal is different and distinctive. The abuse was systemic—from the sheer number of targets and the extent of each targeting we know many workers had to be involved, many higher-ups, multiple offices. It was ideological and partisan—only those presumed to be of one political view were targeted. It has a single unifying pattern: The most vivid abuses took place in the years leading up to the president’s 2012 re-election effort. And in the end several were trying to cover it all up, including the head of the IRS, who lied to Congress about it, and the head of the tax-exempt unit, Lois Lerner, who managed to lie even in her public acknowledgment of impropriety.

It wasn’t a one-off. It wasn’t a president losing his temper with some steel executives. There was no enemies list, unless you consider half the country to be your enemies.

It is considered a bit of a faux pas to point this out, but what we are talking about in part is a Democratic president, a largely Democratic professional administrative class in Washington, and an IRS whose workers belong to a union whose political action committee gave roughly 95% of its political contributions last year to Democrats.

She goes on:

But when a scandal is systemic, ideological and focused on political ends, it will not just magically end. Agencies such as the IRS are part of what Jonathan Turley this week called a “massive administrative state,” one built with many protections and much autonomy.

If it is not forced to change, it will not.

Which gets us to the part about imagination. What does it mean when half the country—literally half the country—understands that the revenue-gathering arm of its federal government is politically corrupt, sees them as targets, and will shoot at them if they try to raise their heads? That is the kind of thing that can kill a country, letting half its citizens believe that they no longer have full political rights.

Those who think this is just business as usual are ahistorical, and those who think nothing can be done, or nothing serious should be done, are suffering from Cynicism Poisoning.

So far, so good. But then the piece tails off into vaporwear. Exactly how do we must avoid Cynicism Poisoning? That is unclear. The House can hold hearings. And perhaps an independent counsel would do the trick, especially because the inquiry would show that not everyone at IRS is an Alinsky-ite warrior for the Administrative State, and this would be “inspiring”. Huh? THAT is her answer?

Noonan does not want to face the fundamental truth. The IRS, like almost every other government agency, has been captured by its staff and its beneficiaries. They run the agency for the personal and ideological benefit of the in-group. And the different agencies have a non-aggression pact. The groups that control the EPA will not interfere with those that control the IRS or the NLRB as long as those cliques in turn leave the EPA alone.

Conservatives are eager to show that the White House directed the IRS to target the Tea Parties, but that misses the real horror — the White House did not need to instruct the IRS. The agency could be relied upon to promote the Progressive cause on its own initiative.

So perhaps it is cynical to say that nothing can be done, but it is only realistic to say that nothing can be done within Noonan’s frame of reference, which assumes that the rot at the IRS was a few bad apples rather than a systemic product of a state that has seen its institutions captured by special interests, both economic and ideological.

So welcome part-way back, Peggy; now keep coming.

Image: Peter Breughel, Paying the Tax Collector. From Wikipedia.


(65 Posts)

Author: "Ending 'Big SIS' (The Special Interest State) and Renewing the American Republic" (2012) [www.SpecialInterestState.org] and "Property Matters--How Property Rights Are Under Assault and Why You Should Care" (1997). Some former jobs: Assistant Director of Consumer Protection in FTC; member of the Program Analysis Staff of the US Bureau of the Budget; Research Director of the Administrative Conference of the United States; Director of IPCentral at the Progress & Freedom Foundation; VP & GC of the National Legal Center for the Public Interest. Graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, former Book Review Editor of the Harvard Law Review.

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