The IRS Patriots
For those of us throwbacks still grumbling over the early 20th century Progressive zeitgeist that laid the foundations of modern America's political absurdities, it's a wonder that the IRS even exists at all: America was, after all, supposed to be the place where Big Government came to die, and it's hard to imagine a better example of Big Government than an entire bureau dedicated to figuring out more ways to take your money.
And they knew it back then, too, and were not shy about saying it: the first 1040 form, sent out in 1913, is just as dense and unwieldy as the one we have today."As provided by an Act of Congress," the form reads, "approved October 3, 1913," a date which might live on in infamy if anyone really had much interest in the subject. But when the chief executive of the central government declares taxes a "patriotic" component of citizenship, as opposed to a merely functionary one, you've probably lost the battle already, and the war, along with a good deal of your income; and then America becomes recognizable as the land where Big Government comes not to die, but to thrive.
Which is why the IRS-Tea Party nonprofit scandal isn't that surprising. According to a government report, the whole affair is the result of "ineffective management." Well, sure.The IRS has over one hundred thousand employees, a budget in the tens of billions, and an immense amount of state-sponsored power to back it up. Should we be surprised that a number of those employees took it upon themselves to be the present-day American iteration of the Glavlit? It takes a certain type to want to outright-censor the positions with which one disagrees, and you can bet that a fair number of those types are drawn to the power of public office.
And that draw is predictable, and traceable. For a long time, many progressives -- and some conservatives, for that matter -- have held out that taxpaying is somehow a thing worthy of pride; it's supposed to be what we do to show our love for country, or something along those lines. In truth, it's hard to imagine a weirder inversion of the way things are: taxes, or so once held a decent bit of American rhetoric, are a necessary evil, something taken by force, given with resistance, and always with the understanding that they are meant to contribute to some sort of greater good. "No taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant," George Washington said in his farewell address; it wasn't that the man was against taxes, but that he simply recognized them for what they were, and begged his countrymen to act accordingly.
There's not a whole lot of that going around today, at least outside of the wingnut extremist so-and-so Tea Partiers targeted by the IRS in the first place. Of course, that's precisely the point. If the bulk of IRS employees sees taxes as patriotic, and there are certain groups who are arguing for lower taxes, along with a reduced government in general, then it's not surprising that the former would view the latter as something along the lines of Enemies of the State, and use their power accordingly -- only, of course, in accordance with their patriotic duty.
Which is why the whole "ineffective management" label smacks of nonsense: in a very real sense, the exposé of the IRS scandal seems to point to effective management instead, or at least effective management of the things the government wishes to manage, namely political dissent. As the dotcom-era saying goes, it's not a bug but a feature; censorship of offensive opinions is perhaps the chief hallmark of virtually every government in the history books. Yesterday's castigatore becomes today's IRS paper-pusher, and both serve the same function, and strive to reach the same ends: to make everyone agree with the central power, and to punish those who do not.
It's enough to make one feel somewhat hopeless. Three or five years down the line, some dusty House subcommittee will have finally finished the interminable investigation into this matter and will have concluded that various people acted irresponsibly and abused their positions of power for political purposes and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, government will have almost certainly grown, and its power will have grown along with it, along with the power to tax more people for more things of which the government disapproves. "Inconvenient and unpleasant" doesn't really begin to cover it.
Daniel Payne is a freelance writer and manual laborer living and working in Richmond, Virginia. He blogs at oakmoor.blogspot.com.