The government scandals of the day are packed with irony: from the seizure of reporters’ phone record to the bungling in Benghazi; from the president’s slight of Thomas Jefferson to the IRS targeting opponents of big government. If Woody Allen, Carol Brunette, Mark Twain, and anyone else who made the observation that comedy is tragedy plus time are correct, perhaps this will be the fodder of funny men in the future, much as Monty Python tried to milk a few laughs from the Black Plague from the safe distance of 600 years.
But the Plague wasn’t funny then to the hundreds of millions who lived through it and died from it. And there is not much laughing room now in watching our government grow more lawless by the day.
Nothing can really top the irony of President Obama’s belittling just days ago of people who say we need to be aware that governments can become tyrannical. Presumably, Obama’s disdain extends to people like Thomas Jefferson who have warned about the need for vigilance against government abuse.
Such people “gum up the works,” said Obama.
What works, specifically, are those? The answer came within only days with the discovery that the IRS was politicizing enforcement of tax provisions. To make the irony complete, that story was immediately followed by news that the Justice department was snooping on reporters’ phone records without benefit of court orders or warrants.
The news that the Justice Department has been snooping through reporters’ phone records at least got the attention of the news media. It would be nice if the media were as concerned with the rest of the government’s neglect of the Constitution. It would be nice to see the lapdog press turn into the watchdog press.
Speaking of ironies, there are probably many in the media who don’t at all mind the IRS targeting opponents of big government – Tea Partiers and those interested in the Constitution – just as there are probably many conservatives who really don’t mind big government harassing big media.
Just when you think all of that is enough, we get the news that the Justice Department, itself suspected of gross indifference to the formalities of warrants, is now charged with investigating the IRS, which is indifferent to just about everything.
Meanwhile, those shocked – shocked, I tell you – to discover that the IRS has politicized tax enforcement are either wet behind the ears, or just dangerously naïve. We know that presidents from FDR to Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon all used the IRS to target their opponents.
But use of the IRS as a weapon has not been limited to the executive branch. In a Wall Street Journal column (“A Brief History of IRS Political Targeting,” 5/14/2013), James Bovard recounts episodes of congressional abuse, for example of “an IRS official who had explained at an IRS meeting in San Francisco that audit requests from members of Congress or their staff had been shredded and also suggested how future requests from Capitol Hill could be camouflaged.”
Of the same practice used again, Bovard reports, “Audit requests from congressmen were marked ‘expedite’ or ‘hot politically’ and IRS officials were obliged to respond within 15 days. Permitting congressmen to secretly and effortlessly sic G-men on whomever they pleased epitomized official Washington’s contempt for average Americans and fair play. But because the abuse was bipartisan, there was little enthusiasm on Capitol Hill for an investigation.”
Sadly, it is true that the only time there is enthusiasm on Capitol Hill is when an investigation can produce partisan victories and electoral advantage. That would explain Capitol Hill’s interest in the Benghazi fiasco: If Hillary can be neutralized, and if Democrats can be faulted for mishandling Benghazi, Republicans are on the case. But their interest stops dead in its track at the question of what we were up to in Libya to begin with. After all, both Republican and Democrat fingerprints are all over the intervention in Libya. And if the government was using Benghazi as a staging area to run guns to rebels in Syria – fighters uncomfortably similar to Al Qaeda - then nobody wants to know.
The death of Ambassador Stevens and other Americans in Benghazi is a tragedy; but if the so-called diplomatic mission there was a CIA base, we deserve to know. We do know that whatever it was in Benghazi, it wasn’t an embassy. Or a consulate.
If the ambassador was really a CIA agent, that is a violation of our laws. We deserve to know. There is no law that commits the United States to protect illegal gunrunning. And there is no diplomatic immunity for weapons dealers.
Where would the Benghazi trail lead if Congress cared about more than their own political fortunes? Here’s a hint: what we do know is that of the people evacuated by air from Benghazi the night of the attack, seven were diplomatic and State Department workers. Twenty-three were CIA officers.
So from illegal operations overseas (does anybody remember a Constitutional declaration of war that authorized the U.S. to topple the government in Libya?) to snoops in the Justice department; from the targeting of political opponents by the IRS to a Congress concerned solely with the next election; from one badly stained department of government charged with investigating another to the president’s derision of Jeffersonian vigilance; from all this we are left to ask: who will guard us from our guardians?
Maybe it will all prove to be hysterically funny with the passage of enough time.
But for now, Ron Paul deserves apologies from those who, like Obama, believed that his calls for us to be vigilant about intrusive government were over the top.
Charles Goyette is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Dollar Meltdown. His new book is Red and Blue and Broke All Over: Restoring America’s Free Economy.
Photo credit: waif69 (Creative Commons)