The IRS Targeted Conservatives Because It Could

That’s the headline on a must-read piece over at by Peter Suderman.

Liberals have claimed that the IRS got into the habit of harassing conservative organizations because it was understaffed (!!). In other words, as Suderman points out, they are claiming that rather than being too big government is too small.

 Suderman further notes that the government-is-too-small reply to the IRS scandal suffered a setback when longtime Obama adviser David Axelrod said that the president couldn’t possibly be held responsible and couldn’t have known what was going on at the IRS because the government is too vast.

Suderman points to another reason for the abuses:

When public servants have the power to make life difficult for narrowly defined groups of people—their political enemies, or disfavored causes, or people on the wrong side of a national discussion—they’ll end up using, and abusing, that power. It’s all but inevitable, whatever the reason. Sometimes they’ll do it because they’re out to punish their foes. Sometimes because they honestly believe it’s the fairest and most reasonable way to do their jobs. Sometimes because they’re mean and petty people. Sometimes because they think they’re making the nation a better place for all. Sometimes because they’re instructed to do so from on high. Sometimes because they’re not given enough instruction. Sometimes because they’re just plain incompetent.

It’s not that the reasons don’t matter at all. They do. But in some ways the particular reasons miss the larger point. Power will find a reason. It always does….

 But focusing on the narrow particulars of this specific scandal misses the larger point. Which is that this is a problem of power—a problem that has a long history, and a problem that the IRS has fought to avoid fixing. As [James] Bovard notes [in a piece on the history of IRS abuses], despite a record of politically charged abuses, the IRS “has usually done an excellent job of stifling investigations into its practices” and "has a long history of seeking to intimidate congressional critics." Big or small, smartly managed or incompetent—what allowed the IRS to target conservative groups was that it could. And what the agency’s history indicates is that when it can, it will.

Lord Acton, call your office.