- - Thursday, August 15, 2013

President Obama’s bewildering response to the mounting Internal Revenue Service scandal has been to simply deny there is a scandal, dismissively labeling it “phony.” He seems confident that in a moral version of rock-paper-scissors, denial always beats accusation, irrespective of the freight of evidence behind it.

This has been the top-down strategy for partisan Democrats from the beginning. As head of the exempt organizations unit in Washington, Lois Lerner casually insisted any wrongdoing was fully attributable to a few “line people in Cincinnati” who were “not so fine.” Now we’ve learned from the testimony of IRS lawyer Carter Hull that not only was the political targeting not confined to Cincinnati, but that it occurred under the pointed direction of Ms. Lerner.

It is flatly incredible that the partisan gamesmanship is contained to the IRS’ internal machinations. Mr. Hull’s testimony, which would be considered explosive in a parallel world with a press equally attentive to both parties’ shenanigans, revealed that Ms. Lerner funneled all those conservative and Tea Party applications up to IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins. Mr. Wilkins was appointed to his post by Mr. Obama. I’m assuming the two have chatted here and there about the IRS’ directives, if not electoral politics.

While this is a genuinely disturbing scandal, it’s also genuinely predictable. Why wouldn’t the IRS’ purportedly apolitical mission be disfigured for political gain? The agency has vast, amorphously delimited powers to regulate commerce, purloin private and commercial funds, grant or withhold licensing, and instigate criminal investigations and prosecutions. All of these functions require an unmatched ability to collect massive storehouses of data on American citizens. Paradoxically, this unseemly amalgam of power and impunity is constitutionally certified by the 16th Amendment.

From a practical perspective, the IRS is the beating heart of big-government liberalism. The creation and expansion of centralized bureaucracy isn’t cheap, and someone has to assess and collect the public’s tab. The agency’s prerogatives are infamously protected by the diffuse character of the tax code; Talmudic scholars are confronted by a less daunting task.

Ideologically, the crooked timber of the IRS is microcosmic of the fundamental defects of progressivism at large. Wrapped in an unintelligible skein of complex rules, shielded from the duties and effects of representation, endowed with immense authority over the public fisc, the IRS is the nadir of technocratic bureaucracy. It almost seems specifically designed to tempt politicians to commandeer it for their self-interested purposes.

Its willingness to become a political weapon historically favors the party that provides it patronage, the party of big government. It only makes sense that it would consistently demonstrate fealty to those who perennially lobby for its infinite aggrandizement. No one fell out of their chairs upon learning that the IRS was singling out conservative groups advocating for tax reform. Why wouldn’t it place bull’s-eyes on those who call for its diminishment? A simpler tax code presumably means a leaner, less imperious tax collector.

In related news, the inevitably messy implementation of Obamacare necessarily entails the magnification of the IRS’ size and regulatory scope. As someone proudly enlisted on the side of big government, Mr. Obama intends to punish the IRS for its transgressions by making it bigger, more powerful and more resistant to public vigilance. That’ll show them. By comparison, the National Security Agency, embroiled in a scandal of its own, looks like a snooping expedition run by wayward teens.

It is now certainly false that the whole debacle innocently amounts to what ousted acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller called “horrible customer service.” A governmental organization abused its colossal authority for its own political gain, silencing private citizens during a hotly contested election. It anointed itself a kingmaker, and loosed itself from the entanglements of democracy to ordain a friendly and indebted king.

The smug conceit of big-government liberalism is that our lives demand supervision by a bureaucratic elite both smarter and more resistant to corruption than we are. The Department of Motor Vehicles has long served as the counterargument. In the court of public opinion, please enter into evidence Exhibit B: the IRS.

Ivan Kenneally is the senior editor of the Sourcing Journal.