June 1st, 2013

Using the IRS against political enemies: Nixon vs. Obama

Since the IRS scandal broke, you see it almost everywhere: statements that Nixon used the IRS to target enemies, often coupled with a claim that what he did was worse than what the IRS has been up to lately.

In fact, Article 2 of the impeachment charges drawn up against Nixon involved the IRS, although he resigned before he was ever impeached and thus the merits of the accusations were never heard. Scott Johnson at Powerline points out the curious language used:

Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment was carefully framed to charge that Nixon “endeavored to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposes not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.”

Nixon’s alleged abuse of the IRS seems to have gone largely unrequited. Note the careful use of the word “endeavored.” It appears to be the operative term.

Turning to Stanley Kutler’s history of Watergate, I find that Kutler devotes remarkably few pages to the issue. Nixon’s efforts with the IRS seem pathetically futile. Robert Haldeman is said to have selected a number of people on various enemies’ lists “for audits and other forms of harassment.”

But who was audited? Kutler mention only Washington Post attorney Edward Bennett Williams, who was audited for three years running. An IRS office (the Special Services Staff), created in 1969 at the urging of Tom Huston, is said to have “compiled information on more than 1,000 institutions and 4,000 individuals.” Kutler makes no mention of anything having been done with the information.

Kutler observes that the White House worked hard on IRS Commissioner Johnnie Walters to make him subservient to political needs. Nixon henchman Jack Caulfield astutely complained, however, that the IRS was a “monstrous bureaucracy…dominated and controlled by Democrats.” Kutler doesn’t say it, but the Nixon administration’s efforts with Walters appear to have gone approximately nowhere…

The index for “IRS” in Kutler’s book reveals concisely how it turned out in Nixon’s second term. “Search for politically pliable Commissioner,” reads the subhead. “Not successful,” reads the sub-subhead.

The difference between the present excesses and Nixon’s may make Nixon look like a piker. But although Nixon seems to have been less successful in actually using the IRS to hurt his enemies, his guilt was established by his clearly expressed (on the tapes) interest in and intent to do so, whether he managed to accomplish that aim or not. In this matter, as in so many others, it was the tapes that did Nixon in. If the tapes had not existed we wouldn’t know about it.

Contrast with Obama, who almost certainly has left no trail of tapes, or even emails, to connect him to such intent. And yet there is little doubt that he probably wished it to happen, gave signals (Tea Party evil, Republicans evil, conservatives evil, they are our enemies rather than our oppponents) that either motivated the overwhelmingly liberal IRS staff and managers to do what they did, or actually directed his underlings to do so without leaving paper or audio evidence to tie the orders to him.

Ironic, isn’t it? But Obama may have learned from Nixon’s mistakes.

In addition, the built-in liberal bias in the bureaucracy of the IRS makes it inherently more difficult for a conservative to accomplish what liberals did. The personnel of the IRS (and most other government bureaucracies as well) does not include many people of the conservative persuasion (for example, during the last two presidential elections, 85% of donations from IRS employees went to Obama). That built-in bias would make it far easier for a Democrat to bend the IRS to his/her political ends than a Republican, if he/she so desired.

11 Responses to “Using the IRS against political enemies: Nixon vs. Obama”

  1. Ymarsakar Says:

    The question is why did the tapes exist and why did the FBI or Nixon’s enemies have access to them.

    Nixon’s enemies might as well be summed up as America’s enemies by this point in time.

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    Ymarsakar:

    Perhaps you missed this thread on related issues.

    But the tapes were accessed because during the Watergate hearings, Alexander Butterfield (in charge of the taping system at the White House) was called to testify, and mentioned that they existed. They were subpoenaed as part of that investigation, and Nixon was forced to release them.

  3. blert Says:

    The only rational explanation is that Buraq ran the op straight from his desk/ golf cart/ air force one.

    He bypassed Holder — and had the IRS commissioner over for endless oral instructions that could not be digitized.

    The ONLY reason to keep trekking to the Pink House is to reach the President. ALL other officials are going to conduct such touchy confabs a w a y from the Pink House glare.

    Buraq was doing exactly what the public was assured could NEVER be done.

    A century ago, when the income tax amendment was being debated — this was an issue. The high and mighty realized at once that they’d have to turn over their most sacred personal documents — their accounts.

    What the President has been doing is commit an endless series of felonies against the tax code. On the merits, it’s impeachable.

    However, our Senate is paralyzed along party lines. Democrats don’t apprehend that the Wan is destroying their party.

  4. parker Says:

    BHO learned how to operate as a protege of the Cook County – Chicago Machine. Nothing leads back to him except the words of his consigliere.

  5. Lizzy Says:

    Don’t know if this counts as a “smoking gun”, but yesterday on Jake Tapper’s CNN show Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s Deputy Campaign Manager, said that she was in meetings with IRS Commissioner Shulman. Fits with theory that Shulman was providing opposition research to Obama campaign – in person so that there was no electronic paper trail.
    http://tinyurl.com/l9mkuj7

  6. Richard Aubrey Says:

    It would be one thing if the IRS were told to go after–maybe aggressively audit–so-and-so and obeyed. Probably this is what happened when Nixon was president.
    It appears that the current scandal was not only a matter of direction from obama, but also a matter of institutional interest, i.e. the IRS folks actually believed their targets deserved this either for who they were or for what could be accomplished in the larger sphere (elections, etc.) by such illegal activities.
    IOW, the bastards enjoyed their work.

  7. Charles Says:

    This IS the typical liberal response when they have no defense – “yea, but, what so and so did was worse!”

    This is what the left (and that includes most of the MSM) will always say when they are caught red-handed.

    What they so often fail to realize is that most thinking people will think “yea, so? others are/were worse; but, does that make what you did right?”

    On the other hand, sadly, there aren’t enough thinking people too call them out on this type of lame excuse.

  8. Ymarsakar Says:

    The attack as defense method works because most humans prioritize their own self survival over making a point. So if you attack them where their beliefs and heart is, most sane and socialized humans will stop going on the offense, go back home, and turtle up.

    The fact that this can be used strategically to defeat you is perhaps not taught in public schools.

  9. Lizzy Says:

    Obama thought bigger than Nixon: he was coordinating attacks on citizens through multiple federal and non-government organizations (Media Matters, Occupy, etc.). Obama would attack some hated “1%” Romney donors in his campaign materials & speeches, they would then be audited by the IRS and other agencies, their tax info would be leaked to OFA and/or ProPublica, and then activists like Shulman’s wife would agitate the Lefty masses against them. This kind of stuff just doesn’t happen organically.
    See this timeline on Shulman’s wife’s tweets:http://tinyurl.com/kjsj94t

  10. Eric Says:

    Charles,

    “Thinking people” only get 2 realistic choices in the voting booth: Democrat or Republican.

    In that context, good/bad, right/wrong is relative to the opposing party, not absolute.

    The Democrats carve out identity groups and associate with their self-interests while painting the Republicans as opposed to those self-interests. Advantage: Democrats.

    Then, if the Democrats are brought low by a scandal, they don’t need to retake the high ground. They merely need to drag the Republicans down to or close enough to their level in the public eye to achieve relative equality – cancel out. If the Democrats can accomplish that, then their self-interest advantage will put them back on top in the voting booth, and winning elections is the *only thing* that counts. Not good/bad or right/wrong.

    So, when the Republicans are pursuing a Democrat scandal, it’s not enough to bring the Democrats onto the low ground. The Republicans need also to affirmatively take the high ground by presenting the public with a superior alternative with a full context, frame, and narrative.

  11. Barack Obama, The Worst Of Nixon, The Worst Of Carter, The Worst President In History – And You’re Going To Pay For It | Start Thinking Right Says:

    […] Nixon merely TALKED about using the IRS to target his political enemies; Barack Obama actually DID i….  What we already know about the IRS scandal is that the orders DID come from Washington – contrary to Obama’s repeated lies – and in fact came from AN OBAMA APPOINTEE (one of only two in the entire IRS organization).  We know that the IRS targeted “anti-Obama rhetoric.”  We know that this targeting was preceded by Obama bitterly demonizing the Supreme Court for its Citizens United verdict (because how dare they “open the floodgates” for the same kind of unholy billion-dollar-money that Obama himself had raised for his election when he was the FIRST presidential candidate from either party to refuse the public matching funds program that had been implemented BECAUSE OF NIXON’S CORRUPTION? […]

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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