Speaking at Ohio State University earlier this month, Barack Obama urged students to pay no attention to those paranoid types who “incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity.” Oddly enough, in recent days the most compelling testimony for this view of government has come from the president himself, who insists with a straight face that he had no idea that the Internal Revenue Service had spent two years targeting his political enemies until he “learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this.” Like you, all he knows is what he reads in the papers. Which is odd, because his Justice Department is bugging those same papers, so you’d think he’d at least get a bit of a heads-up. But no doubt the fact that he’s wiretapping the Associated Press was also entirely unknown to him until he read about it in the Associated Press. There is a “president of the United States” and a “government of the United States,” but, despite a certain superficial similarity in their names, they are entirely unrelated, like Beyoncé Knowles and Admiral Sir Charles Knowles. One golfs, reads the prompter, parties with Jay-Z, and guests on the Pimp with a Limp show, and the other audits you, bugs your telephone line, and leaks your confidential tax records. But they’re two completely separate sinister entities. So it’s preposterous to describe Obama as Nixonian: Beyoncé wouldn’t have given Nixon the time of day.
If you believe this, there’s a shovel-ready infrastructure project in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. In April last year, the Obama campaign identified by name eight Romney donors as “a group of wealthy individuals with less than reputable records. Quite a few have been on the wrong side of the law, others have made profits at the expense of so many Americans, and still others are donating to help ensure Romney puts beneficial policies in place for them.” That week, Kimberley Strassel began her Wall Street Journal column thus:
Try this thought experiment: You decide to donate money to Mitt Romney. You want change in the Oval Office, so you engage in your democratic right to send a check.
Several days later, President Barack Obama, the most powerful man on the planet, singles you out by name. . . . The message from the man who controls the Justice Department (which can indict you), the SEC (which can fine you), and the IRS (which can audit you), is clear: You made a mistake donating that money.
Miss Strassel wrote that on April 26, 2012. Five weeks later, one of the named individuals, Frank VanderSloot, was informed by the IRS that he and his wife were being audited. In July, he was told by the Department of Labor of an additional audit over the guest workers on his cattle ranch in Idaho. In September, he was notified that one of his other businesses was to be audited. Mr. VanderSloot, who had never previously been audited, attracted three in the four months after being publicly named by el Presidente. More to the point he attracted that triple audit even though Miss Strassel explicitly predicted in America’s biggest-selling newspaper that this was exactly what the Obama enforcers were going to do. The “separate, sinister entity” of the government of the United States went ahead anyway. What do they care? If some lippy broad in the papers won’t quit her yapping about it, they can always audit her, too — as they did to Miss Strassel’s sometime colleague Anne Hendershott, a sociology professor who got rather too interested in Obamacare and wrote about it in the Journal and various small Catholic publications. The IRS summoned Professor Hendershott to account for herself, and forbade her husband from accompanying her, even though they filed jointly. She ceased her political writing.
A year after he was named to the Obama Dishonor Roll, the feds have found nothing on Mr. VanderSloot, but they have caused him to rack up 80 grand in legal bills. This is what IRS defenders (of whom there are more than there ought to be) mean when they assure us that the system worked: Yes, some rich guy had to blow through the best part of six figures fending off the bureaucrats, but it’s not like his body was found in a trunk at the airport or anything, if you know what I mean, Kimmy baby.
Mr. VanderSloot is big enough, just about, to see off the most powerful government on the planet. Most of those who’ve caught the eye of the IRS share nothing in common with him other than his political preferences. They’re nobodies — ordinary American citizens guilty of no crime except that of disagreeing with the ruling party. Yet they were asked, under “penalty of perjury,” to disclose the names of books they were reading and provide the names and addresses of relatives who might be planning to run for public office — a kind of pre-enemies list. Is that banana-republic enough for you yet? Not apparently for Juan Williams, fired from NPR for thought crime a couple of years ago, but who was nevertheless energetically defending the IRS exertions on Fox News on Thursday evening.
Left-wing groups had their 501(c)(4) applications approved in weeks, right-wing groups were delayed for months and years and ordered to cough up everything from donor lists to Facebook posts, and those right-wing groups that were approved had their IRS files leaked to left-wing groups like ProPublica. The agency’s commissioner, a slippery weasel called Steven Miller, conceded before Congress that this was “horrible customer service” — which it was in the sense that your call is important to him and may be monitored by George Soros for quality control.
A civil “civil service” requires small government. Once government is ensnared in every aspect of life a bureaucracy grows increasingly capricious. The U.S. tax code ought to be an abomination to any free society, but the American people have become reconciled to it because of a complex web of so-called exemptions that massively empower the vast shadow state of the permanent bureaucracy. Under a simple tax system, your income is a legitimate tax issue. Under the IRS,everything is a legitimate tax issue: The books you read, the friends you recommend them to. There are no correct answers, only approved answers. Drew Ryun applied for permanent non-profit status for a group called “Media Trackers” in July 2011. Fifteen months later, he’d heard nothing. So he applied again under the eco-friendly name of “Greenhouse Solutions,” and was approved in three weeks.
The president and the IRS commissioner are unable to name any individual who took the decision to target only conservative groups. It just kinda sorta happened, and, once it had, it growed like Topsy. But the lady who headed that office, Sarah Hall Ingram, is now in charge of the IRS office for Obamacare. Many countries around the world have introduced government health systems since 1945, but, as I wrote here last year, “only in America does ‘health’ ‘care’ ‘reform’ begin with the hiring of 16,500 new IRS agents tasked with determining whether your insurance policy merits a fine.” So now not only are your books and Facebook posts legitimate tax issues but so is your hernia, and your prostate, and your erectile dysfunction. Next time round, the IRS will be able to leak your incontinence pads to George Soros.
Big Government is erecting a panopticon state — one that sees everything, and regulates everything. It’s great “customer service,” except that you can never get out of the store.
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2013 Mark Steyn