Sexton: The IRS Scandal Is Far Worse Than Democrats Will Ever Admit—But Did it Affect the 2012 Presidential Election?

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Barack Obama hold press conference at the White House May 16, 2013 (Photo: Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images)

The IRS scandal is just getting started.

We were told days ago it was the fault of rogue revenue agents in Cincinnati, but the D.C. office and others are now implicated too. What initially affected 75 conservative groups has ballooned to include hundreds, with more to come. IRS officials may also have leaked confidential tax data to wound the Romney campaign in 2012, and certain Romney donors were aggressively audited.

This is already an egregious breach of the public trust, and it’s going to get a lot worse before the dust settles.

Most Americans recognize this IRS abuse as a scandal, but it is much more damaging, and damning, than Obama and the progressive Left will ever admit. This isn’t a failure within an imperfect system; it is an indictment of that entire system.

Our government is too big and powerful, and what inevitably follows from that is what we see now: corruption.

The IRS targeting of conservatives is a manifestation of that reality. It reminds us why our Founders were concerned, first and foremost, with limiting government power. Stifling corruption before it begins is much easier than rooting it out once it has taken hold. With the IRS now exposed as partisan speech police, we must find how far the rot has spread.

The IRS debacle also puts on full display the dangers posed by the progressive authoritarianism that is the foundation for President Obama’s political philosophy and agenda. He wanted a government so large it would be unaccountable to the people it serves. Well, he got it.

While the IRS overreach is breathtakingly blatant, it was also somewhat predictable. The president’s demonization of his political opponents and self-deluding solipsism has created a climate where beating the opposition matters more than protecting our core shared principles. Disdain for the other side of the aisle flowed from the top down.

And since we are being honest, I’ve got a question for you:

When are we allowed to point out that the IRS intimidation had to have some impact on the 2012 Presidential election?

A note of warning: raise this issue in public at your peril. The mere suggestion that Obama’s victory over Romney was tainted in even the slightest way is certain to earn you the scorn of his partisans. If they don’t hurt you physically, they may well find another way to silence you.

Of course, I’m not saying the election was fraudulent. But I am putting the IRS’s offense against our democracy in the proper context. This was all about stifling conservative ideas during a national debate specifically about those ideas.

It is obvious that the intent of some in the IRS was to harm Republicans and benefit the Obama campaign. If we’re going to fully understand how this went wrong, the motive and its impact of the transgression have to be fair game.

By way of contrast, if this were an issue of voter suppression—a favorite bogeyman of the progressive left in recent elections—and it supposedly favored Republicans, media outlets would cover it with wild-eyed rage. They certainly did in 2000, with endless denunciations of a “stolen election,” despite all the subsequent recounts and judicial scrutiny to the contrary.

The fact is that the IRS suppressed free speech. That is not in dispute. Our most conspicuously authoritarian institution influenced political organizations in an election year, including swing states like Ohio. Maybe it was irrelevant. But the Tea Party was less potent in 2012 than 2010, and perhaps now we know why– they were busy filling out IRS paperwork.

When you are talking about hindering and threatening hundreds of political groups, how can one quantify that electoral impact? How many donors or activists stood down for fear that they would be next? We will never know.

Sexton: The IRS Scandal Is Far Worse Than Democrats Will Ever Admit—But Did it Affect the 2012 Presidential Election?

CHICAGO, IL – NOVEMBER 06: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his victory speech after being reelected for a second term at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Credit: Getty Images) 

So will anyone at the top be held accountable?

Probably not, and conservatives should brace themselves, as a senior-level smoking gun in the IRS scandal will almost certainly not be found. One phone call, from one senior advisor, could have created this unofficial IRS policy of harassing conservative political groups. Nobody will own up to that, and nobody will be able to prove it.

That’s not to say there won’t be sacrificial lambs. President Obama has already asked acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller to step down. Apparently, Obama’s view of justice is firing the guy who wasn’t in charge during the misconduct a couple of weeks before he was going to quit anyway (hardly an expulsion to Siberia).

Other low-level officials may be disciplined, which probably means losing an automatic pay increase before it is restored in a year or so. Oh, the humanity.

For any talk of impeachment to be serious, there would have to be incontrovertible proof of direct Obama involvement. It has not been found. Even if it were, impeachment would be an uphill fight in Congress, and the Senate would never remove the president from office anyway.

Let none of that distract from other big picture problems unearthed in this IRS scandal. This is all a fight about the size and scope of government, and its role in our daily lives.

Put aside a few (or many) bad apples at the IRS– our tax code itself is woefully unfair. For anyone without the resources to pay expensive lawyers, it is essentially a 70,000-page monument to legalized graft. The tax code is the most effective tool the statist has to strike fear in average citizens and brand them criminals at whim.

It’s time for us to toss it out. If we must have an income tax at all, it should fit on one page, and be intelligible to anyone who can read. There should be no need for a massive bureaucracy to enforce it. Anything else is political gamesmanship.

For that to happen, conservatives must refocus the national conversation on smaller government. And right now they have an opening to do it.

While some will never abandon the Obama administration, it has lost the faith and trust of many who were once ardent supporters. To paraphrase Talleyrand, the IRS scandal is worse than a crime, it’s a blunder. Obama’s whole second term agenda is in peril.

Between the IRS, Benghazi and the AP phone records seizures, the American people have come to know the unseemly character of this administration.

We will see if, this time, they act on that knowledge, and begin to dismantle the federal leviathan that threatens the liberty we once held so dear.