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.