EDITORIAL: The IRS needs a good spanking

And then a tutorial in the meaning of the First Amendment

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Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

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The tax man, not at all intimidated by widespread disgust at his behavior, is getting ever more aggressive in his pursuit of critics of the Obama administration.

The directors of the IRS don’t care that Congress is investigating their illegal targeting of those who disagree with the president. Why should they? The agency understands that it can get away with whatever it pleases in pursuit of a partisan agenda.

The IRS has opened an attack on the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty in Manassas, Va., which defends freedom of speech and those who exercise it. IRS agents recalled that the group criticized Hillary Clinton, her husband Bill, and John Kerry a decade ago and suspended the group’s tax-exempt status.

Gary Aldrich, a former FBI agent and the group’s founder, is an outspoken man. Sometimes his criticism is harsh and his invective crude. He posted an article on the Patrick Henry website describing Mr. Kerry as a “skunk” and “coward” in 2004. The following year he wrote another piece of invective titled “Stop Hillary Now.”

He published a book attacking Mr. Clinton in 1996. The IRS says such published speech “has shown a pattern of deliberate and consistent intervention in political campaigns” and made “repeated statements supporting or opposing various candidates by expressing its opinion of the respective candidate’s character and qualifications.”

The IRS regards some speech as more offensive than others. In that same year, Julian Bond, then the chairman of the NAACP, delved deeply into the presidential election as well (and as was his right), describing the George W. Bush presidency, and the Republican Party, as representing the “dark underside of American culture,” and saying it served to “reject democracy and equality” and “preach neutrality and practice racial division.” Mr. Bond demanded “regime change” and asked his members to get “registered, organized and mobilized.”

Mr. Bond, like Gary Aldrich, employed harsh language, and he, like Mr. Aldrich, was entirely within his rights as an American to say what he pleases. The First Amendment does not guarantee polite speech, but free speech. The IRS does not understand that what is good for one American is good for all Americans.

The IRS is now pursuing Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, which has been ordered to turn over its donor list to the government. The group has refused, citing the Supreme Court in NAACP v. Alabama, which recognized the right of political groups to respect the privacy of their contributors.

These sordid episodes highlight the folly of enabling the IRS to police political speech. Free speech, including criticism of politicians and candidates, must be encouraged. Groups should not be afraid of harassment by audit, whether liberal or conservative. The IRS needs a good spanking.

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