Peggy Noonan, the cloistered nun from the Order of Our Lady of the Perpetual Martini, has written a column of such bracing stupidity that it would shock us if it did not so closely resemble every other piece of hyperbolic twaddle spewing forth from every conservative anus right now like a molten flow of verbal diarrhea. Shall we all down a couple of beta-blockers and dive into it together?
We are in the middle of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate.
Okay Pegs, let us stop you right there. Not all of us spent the 1980s in a laudanum coma, and we remember a bigger scandal called Iran-contra, which you might have heard something about, and maybe even written a few speeches for your boss to use to try and lie his way out of it. On a moral scale, does “the IRS gave extra scrutiny to conservative groups it suspected were trying to game the system to avoid paying taxes while engaged in political advocacy” really rise to the level of high Reagan administration officials up to and likely including the Gipper himself collaborating with Iran’s mullahs to keep Americans in captivity just to win an election, and then later buying those mullahs’ silence by selling them advanced weaponry and then funneling the money to right-wing death squads in South America? For that matter, if you need a more recent example, is it a worse scandal than lying to your country in order to gain support for a half-assed invasion that has killed or wounded hundreds of thousands of people, drained our treasury, and further inflamed people who already hate us? If your moral scale is that out of whack, we’re going to suggest a recalibration is in order. Perhaps shutting your mouth hole and retiring to a real convent for several years of silence and meditation on your past sins, though honestly what you do after the mouth hole-shutting part is of no concern to us, as long as the mouth hole remains shut.
And that was only the first sentence! It can’t get worse, can it?
In order to suppress conservative groups…the IRS demanded donor rolls, membership lists, data on all contributions, names of volunteers, the contents of all speeches made by members, Facebook posts, minutes of all meetings, and copies of all materials handed out at gatherings.
In other words … the IRS was thoroughly vetting these groups to determine if they qualified for nonprofit status, which they applied for during a contentious election season when many old rules governing how money is spent in our electoral system had been tossed right out the window. (Thanks, Roberts Court!) Sounds to us as if the IRS was trying to adapt its ossified bureaucracy to a brave new world and came up with an ugly solution. This is not exactly the stuff of which Bob Woodward books are written, not that that old hack probably won’t try.
The second part of the scandal is the auditing of political activists who have opposed the administration. The Journal’s Kim Strassel reported an Idaho businessman named Frank VanderSloot, who’d donated more than a million dollars to groups supporting Mitt Romney. He found himself last June, for the first time in 30 years, the target of IRS auditors.
First of all, Frank VanderSloot is not just some Idaho businessman. He was a finance co-chair of Mitt Romney’s campaigns in both 2008 and 2012, and he is a major mover and shaker in Idaho politics. Second of all, is there any evidence that VanderSloot was intentionally targeted by the IRS for any reason other than he is a multi-millionaire and that kind of money tends to attract attention? Well, last summer there was this:
(VanderSloot) received notice of his first-ever IRS audit two months after he was “singled out by the Obama campaign for having questionable and troubling records on various issues.”
“I am not claiming there is a connection and don’t know if there is one,” VanderSloot told the AP. “But the fact that it comes right on the heels of being named on the president’s enemies list is curious to say the least.”
In other words, no. It is true VanderSloot had been publicly named by the Obama campaign as one of eight major Romney donors with ethical issues that some people might consider a deal-breaker. This is not an enemies list in the sinister sense. It is a political campaign identifying for voters the moneyed interests behind a candidate. That is a good thing to do in a democracy when any rich guy can spend any amount of money he wants to get an automaton like Mitt Romney elected! If you don’t want the people to know what they might be getting, don’t climb in the ring. Pegs, we’re beginning to think you hate democracy.
The other “political activist” Peggy specifically names as having been targeted by the IRS is Billy Graham, whose son Franklin “told Politico he believes his father was targeted.” That is the sum total of Peggy’s evidence about the targeting of Billy Graham. One has to do a little research to find out that the IRS recently re-evaluated the Graham organizations’ tax-exempt status because Billy had in fact engaged in politicking, and concluded they could keep their tax-exempt status anyway.
But what do we expect? We’re talking about perpetually aggrieved “victims” here, the kinds of people who shriek like feverish howler monkeys with raging scabies if the checker at the grocery store wishes them a “happy holiday” instead of a “merry Christmas.” Again, shut the mouth hole, Pegs. Oh, you have one more fact-free accusation to make?
It is not even remotely possible that all this was an accident, a mistake.
True, it was no accident! It was an intentional effort by politically tone-deaf bureaucrats to try and impose some order on the chaos unleashed by Citizens United during a time of particularly intense partisanship. Sure, it would be really great if we had a regulatory structure that at least made a pretense of keeping dark money out of politics. But we don’t. So it is left to bureaucrats at the IRS, qualified or not, to make sure grifters don’t get to grift. Sorry, Pegs. Have some more laudanum.
Don’t bogart it, though. We need some ourselves after wading through this tripe.
UPDATE: From our old friend Charlie Pierce comes this reminder that Billy Graham has been complaining about the IRS crawling all over him for better than 40 fucking years, since back when a president actually was ordering the IRS to punish his political enemies. The difference is that that president, in the course of his daily activities as a Neanderthal-browed jerkwad, was on Billy’s side. Poor Billy. All politicized up and no one in power to blow.