Are Republicans More Ethical than Democrats?
It is easy to be cynical about the corrosive effects of power. No party has a monopoly on corruption and misuse of public office. Yet cynicism is not the same as wisdom. Such every day cynicism helps Democrats escape from the uncomfortable moral challenges posed to big government advocates by the slew of scandals erupting in Washington.
What we are seeing involves systemic flouting of the law by Democrats, from elected and appointed officials to unionized bureaucrats, who have targeted ordinary citizens because they are political opponents, riding rough shod over our rights to free speech, assembly, freedom of the press and equal application of the law.
There has not been abuse of power on this scale in this baby boomer's lifetime. This is beyond the ordinary, and ordinary cynicism will not suffice. The debate over whether our President is guilty of active abuse, leadership by example, or incompetence is important. But it is not the most important thing going on. The problem is far larger than the Oval office, and will extend past this presidency unless there is significant government reform.
Sadly, calls to fix the problem will not be bi-partisan. Even support for a thorough investigation is coming almost entirely from Republicans and swing voters. Democrat approval of Obama is holding firm. Most Democrats are eager to minimize the unfortunate headlines. They don't want what they see as sideshows to interfere with their goals for massive social and political change, and income redistribution. Not Benghazi, where lives were lost, nor IRS misconduct, where the election was skewed, nor harassment of the press by the DOJ, has caused them to re-examine what they are about. Only conservatives will seek systemic reforms commensurate with the problems. Democrats have nothing to offer, because Democrats' idealism is the fountainhead of the problem.
My theory is this: while the abuse of power stemmed directly from the thuggish Chicago way which was emanating from the White House, the heart of the problem is the utopian idealism of the President, his inner leftist circle, the old media, his big donors, right down to the Democrat man in the street. They all agree that victory for their side is so virtuous and vital, nothing must stand in its way. Not the law, not respect for others, not common decency.
Thomas Sowell's brilliant book, Intellectuals and Society, explicates why liberals' utopian vision leads to such moral failures. They think they have government policy answers to people's needs and policy cures for all of society's ills. Government can do it all -- take care of us all, tell us the one correctly enlightened way to think, change the very climate of our planet. If only they could attain the power to put their ideas into action. It is easy to move from that sense of superior capability and moral mission to thinking the means of grabbing power are justified because your intentions are so good, so crucial.
New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman daydreams of what he and fellow liberals could accomplish ruling America with all the powers of the Chinese Communist Party. Republican politicians, no matter how power hungry and narcissistic, know that is a nightmare. Their followers know that is a nightmare. Democrats do not.
Democrats, from liberals to leftists, see themselves along with Obama as the embodiment of hope, and their opponents as anti-hope. Of course those opponents are illegitimate and must be defeated by any means necessary. Of course, the limits posed on elected and bureaucratic power by our anti-utopian founding fathers must be breached.
Democrats reject the Supreme Court decision that enabled conservative small-government groups to fundraise on an equal footing with ACORN, Move-on, and the unions. Democrats do not want to apply our laws and our Bill of Rights protections to political opponents, especially not successful ones such as the Tea Party.
Tea Party citizen activists, some of whom testified so eloquently before the Ways and Means committee last week, had organizations as small as 60 members and budgets of a few hundred dollars. Why would the IRS be wasting time on them? Because Democrats knew that if these fellow citizens were left to freely organize, they might have trounced Obama in 2012, as they trounced House Democrats in 2010. So the IRS -- along with the FBI, OSHA and the EPA -- hounded them.
Democrats love to talk about rights. The right to a job, to health care, to American citizenship, to a place in college, to free birth control -- but not the Bill of Rights, not property rights, not the right of opponents to compete in fair elections. Democrats don't care overmuch for the core American values of individual liberty and responsibility. They dream of making the world over into a never-seen-before beautiful and fair and peaceful place, all through the power of government.
They reject religion as backward, but they assign a ruling liberal elite god-like powers to fix every problem. Unlike religion, their road to utopia requires that individuals have less liberty and less responsibility. We hear over and over from frustrated liberals that since Obama can't get Congress to obey him cooperate, he must evade the division of power meant to protect us from presidential tyranny. They want him to get his will done by other means, including legal and illegal administrative diktat, working through the bureaucracies. The IRS attempt to shut down opposition non-profits is a result of the liberal urge to power.
Republican politicians and bureaucrats are just as partisan, and can be corrupt and power hungry -- which is why our Constitution limits government -- but their sense of mission has limits, and they are grounded in American history. They accept constitutional limits. Democrat liberals and leftists do not.
Even Republican politicians understand the value of American individualism. However much any Republican politicians may seek and abuse personal power for their own gain, they don't have an institutional and moral goal of diminishing each person's independence for the common good. Democrats see liberty as a threat to their agenda. They bristle at the word, and envision a gun toting militiaman. They see liberty as the enemy of food stamps, and they want food stamps more.
Liberal idealism is so self-righteous that the liberal urge to power will brook no limit. Freedom of speech and assembly and the press, Supreme Court rulings, equal application of the tax laws -- only for fellow liberals, liberal media, and liberal advocacy groups.
The scandals making headlines are not surprising, they are inevitable.
As Kimberly Strassel of the Wall St. Journal documents in an important column, The IRS Political Timeline, President Obama spent months calling for what happened. Strassel writes:
These were not off-the-cuff remarks. They were repeated by the White House and echoed by its allies in campaign events, emails, social media and TV ads. The president of the United States spent months warning the country that "shadowy," conservative "front" groups-"posing" as tax-exempt entities and illegally controlled by "foreign" players-were engaged in "unsupervised" spending that posed a "threat" to democracy. Yet we are to believe that a few rogue IRS employees just happened during that time to begin systematically targeting conservative groups? ...Cincinnati IRS employees are now telling investigators that they took their orders from Washington. For anyone with a memory of 2010 politics, that was obvious from the start.
Yet Strassel is missing the bigger picture. Yes, Obama demonized his opposition -- from Fox News, to the Tea Party, to individual Republican donors -- in a way never heard before from a sitting President. The key thing to understand is that these were attitudes that he shared with millions of his fellow liberals and the liberal press. Millions of Democrats liked and agreed with his denigration of Republicans as racists and selfish, out only for themselves at the expense of the country, liars and cheaters, getting rich on the backs of the poor and middle class. They believe it. They wanted more of it. Only a rare voice from the left side of the aisle protested.
Talking about Republican racism, idiocy and selfishness became dinner table conversations for millions. President Obama's viciousness was downgraded to "incivility," or even admired as strength by his followers. Scapegoating Republicans for the country's woes was greeted happily and amplified by his followers. Hatred of Republicans was a fun way for them to bond with one another. It reinforced their sense of moral and political superiority, as scapegoating always does. No Republican policy was considered a well-meaning, albeit misguided, proposal aimed at our common goals of a flourishing and fair nation. Republicans were made into the dangerous and sinful Other, who must be nullified for the common good.
Denigration, disrespect, dehumanization always precedes discrimination and persecution. As the night follows day, the vilification campaign was followed by active persecution, carried out against conservative groups between their 2010 victories and the 2012 election, and continuing to the present.
The intimidation and harassment of political opponents by the IRS, the involvement of the FBI, OSHA and the EPA in trying to suppress the kitchen-table group called True the Vote, the targeting of Fox News by the Justice Department, the harassment by the IRS of individual Republicans -- all following the soaring rhetorical inspiration of the President -- are abuses of power on a new scale in American history, but they are predictable outgrowths of the liberal utopian vision.
The collusion of the media in burying one scandal after another and the partisanship of the Democrat voters who still don't see the problem, is again, unique in generations. It was this broad public backing that enabled the administration and bureaucracy's abuse of power.
The argument can be made that President Obama is at heart a small-scale leftist politician who has surrounded himself with thuggish advisors schooled in the Chicago way, none of them of a stature fit for national power. One such Obama supporter obviously thought up the IRS idea, others in power obviously supported it, both passively and actively, and many self-interested government union workers carried it out.
This was not the work of a few people. In July 2010 an email describing the targeting of the Tea Party groups was sent by mistake to the entire IRS office in D.C. Obama's Treasury Department knew about it five months before the 2012 election. The head of the IRS knew about it, and he visited the White House a remarkable 157 times. As Hillary Clinton likes to say, it takes a village.
Only one IRS agent said, "No" and resigned. We cannot count on the government to police itself, let alone shrink itself. The only thing that can push back the tide of big government is a resurgence of the Tea Party that will sweep small government conservatives into office in 2014 and 2016. Becky Gerritson, President of the Wetumpka, Alabama Tea Party explains why:
We knew that the government had gone far beyond its habitual, deficit spending. The government was mortgaging America's future. And we knew that Washington wasn't going to stop by itself...
I'm telling my government that you've forgotten your place. It's not your responsibility to look out for my wellbeing and to monitor my speech. It's not your right to assert an agenda. Your post, the post that you occupy, exists to preserve American liberty. You've sworn to perform that duty, and you have faltered....
What the government did to our little group in Wetumpka, Alabama is un-American. It isn't a matter of firing or arresting individuals. The individuals who sought to intimidate us were acting as they thought they should, in a government culture that has little respect for its citizens. Many of the agents and agencies of the federal government do not understand that they are servants of the people. They think they are our masters. And they are mistaken.
Are they mistaken? We will be finding out in the next months and years. It will take a lot of long, hard, political work to halt the government juggernaut and reject the liberal dystopia. This could be the beginning of a new era of American renewal, moral and political, based on personal responsibility and freedom. Which way it goes depends on us.