The only surprising part of this story is that the IRS apologized. Whichever party is in power, its critics can expect more IRS attention than usual. Since the executive branch is currently run by a Democrat, tax-exempt groups with phrases like “tea party” and “patriot” in their names were targeted. But the tables turn when a Republican is president. Charlotte Twight gives a historical example on p. 271 of her book Dependent on D.C.:
Republican President Richard Nixon in 1971 expressed his intention to select as IRS commissioner “a ruthless son of a bitch,” who “will do what he’s told,” will make sure that “every income tax return I want to see I see,” and “will go after our enemies and not go after our friends.”
President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, is also alleged to have abused his position to punish political enemies.
Conservatives are right to be outraged by today’s news. But they shouldn’t be surprised by it. Nor should they direct their ire at President Obama or the IRS staffers who initiated the unnecessary investigations. They should be outraged that politics has become such a high-stakes game in the first place that officeholders view this type of behavior as a legitimate political tactic. The problem is systemic, not partisan.