Any administration is led from the top down. As a matter of fact, this White House is fond of declaring that this president is very hands-on. Their story line is President Obama micro-manages all aspects and decisions. You may remember that even in the raid on bin Laden's estate, the President all but took credit for pulling the trigger and shooting the world's most hunted terrorist. Hollywood made a movie about that raid. The White House released a drama riddled photo with Hillary Clinton clasping her hand over her mouth as Team Obama watched the event in real time. Though President Obama has claimed that the buck stops with him a few times, he has yet to declare that the recent scandals coming to light are brought about by failures in his leadership. He doesn't appreciate the comparisons with the disgraced Nixon administration, either.
Republicans have a real opportunity here. No one is making a better argument for smaller, more efficient government - the very core of Republican philosophy - than Barack Obama and his merry band of big government loving fellow liberals. Case in point - the televised House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the IRS abuse of power, as shown in the targeting of conservative groups and individuals alike. The acting commissioner, Steve Miller, has resigned at the request of the White House, though he was scheduled to retire in a couple of weeks anyway. Miller was held out as a measure of accountability taken by President Obama as he made a very brief, and essentially meaningless statement Thursday after it became clear he could not postpone weighing in any longer. In reality, the man is retiring with full benefits and perks even though he knew about the scandal a full year ago and said nothing. It is noted that Miller knew about the targeting of conservatives back in May, 2012.
But if all of this is such a non-issue, why did it take the department so long to acknowledge its mistakes? The Treasury Inspector General report released this week shows that Mr. Miller knew about the use of conservative keywords in tax-exempt vetting in May 2012, months before the Presidential election. Republicans were asking about it at the time. If it wasn't a political bombshell, why didn't he make it public immediately?
And it is being conveniently overlooked by a less than vigilant press that Miller admitted that the person who admitted the abuse - Ms Lerner - during a question and answer period after a speech last Friday, thus getting out in front of the Treasury IG's report. She was even in cahoots with the questioner.
Instead, the agency's Tax Exempt Organization Director Lois Lerner broke the story last Friday in response to a question at a meeting of the American Bar Association in Washington. She implied at the time that her apology for the targeting, conveniently timed to front-run the Treasury IG report, was a spontaneous answer to a surprise question from the audience.Mr. Miller said this was not some intentional abuse implemented from political ideology on the part of those in the IRS taking wrong headed actions. No. It was bad decisions and really bad 'customer service'.
But Friday's hearing revealed that the IRS planted the question that was asked by Washington tax lawyer Celia Roady, who serves on the IRS's Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities. So it was an inside job, and Ms. Lerner knew the question was coming. This may seem a small bit of spin-control hoping to minimize the story before a spring weekend. But if Ms. Lerner fibbed so casually about that, what else are we supposed to trust her on?
Did the IRS's systemic harassment of conservative groups stem from bad intent or bad management? "From my understanding, it was bad management," Mr. Miller asserted. There were a "lack of controls," and "foolish mistakes" were made "by people who were trying to be more efficient in their workload selection."
Thus, by Mr. Miller's lights, IRS agents were merely trying to do their jobs better and got a little sloppy. Perhaps Mr. Miller expects taxpayers to be grateful that their well-intentioned public servants were so dogged and diligent. He did, however, apologize for the agency's "horrible customer service," as if the IRS's targeting conservative groups is tantamount to a McDonald's MCD +0.42% employee forgetting the pickles and tomatoes in a Big Mac.
Conservative columnist and pundit George Will notes that Barack Obama has lost the American people's trust in expanding the federal government. Obama's very bad week shows that the growing scandals reflect a collapse in confidence that an already grossly inefficient, lumbering federal bureaucratic system will only be more so as liberals rush to write even more laws and regulations to 'fix' the holes popping forth.
In the case of the IRS abuses, this is a perfect opportunity for Republicans to promote tax reforms, streamlining the tax code, and make a more people friendly system of filing tax reports. Too many people make lots of money off a dinosaur system for that all to happen quickly but Republicans can begin chipping away at the system now in place.
Mr. Miller inadvertently showed the face of big liberalism. He was the face of the ultimate government bureaucrat. His performance was less than stellar before the House committee and at times showed himself to be petulant and snappish in his answers. Much like his boss, President Obama, he tried to present himself as the fall guy without actually taking responsibility. He was quick to point at others, including his employees in offices like those in Ohio with whom the original stories originated. Democrats were quick to blame George W. Bush, as is their habit, because he appointed the former commissioner. I'll note that he also appointed the Treasury IG, Mr. George, who was also before the committee and provided nothing but professional reporting of his investigation. The Democrats didn't have the nerve to question his ethics for partisan reasons. Somehow, it makes sense to Democrats to blame George W. Bush for appointing someone who was in place when the abuse began, apparently for partisan reasons, though Bush was from the other party. Only in Washington.
To date, none of this is directly linked to Barack Obama. This is not the time for Republicans to personally attack the president, other than noting that leadership comes from the top and that the president sets the tone for his administration. That's legitimate criticism. But, the focus has to remain on the contrast in political philosophy between those conservatives promoting smaller, more efficient government versus liberals who demand ever growing government programs and agencies.
Elections can be won in 2014 and especially in 2016 if Republicans are willing to work smart now. Resist the temptation to go after Barack Obama personally. Go after the behemoth that is the federal government. Candidates promoting solutions involving states and local governments over federal government interference will find an audience in the upcoming election cycle. On that you can be sure.
Reflecting the citizen outrage at an abusive IRS, Congressman Mike Kelly received a standing ovation during the committee hearing for this:
Work smart, Republicans.