Man. Time to flip the lights back on around here.
The past few weeks have been mired in a big package that comes out this weekend on the soaring costs of special education. It’s one of those issues – like pension costs – that have school districts slammed up against the wall. Costs are rising all out of proportion to other spending, to revenue, and it’s completely unsustainable; costs simply can –not– continue to rise at the rate they have. That doesn’t mean they won’t, of course. And everyone says, well, the state needs to step in! Which means: The state needs to give school districts more money. Well, where’s that gonna come from? It can only come from higher taxes, or offsetting cuts elsewhere. And that in and of itself will be controversial.
Good intentions don’t always square up with the revenues to fund them. That’s one of the central facts of life in the age of austerity. But we have yet to come to terms with it. It’s going to be a rough ride.
I have, of course, been following the “scandalicious” developments of the past few weeks. You’ll notice, now, that Benghazi is falling by the wayside. The IRS thing is juicier and more legitimate; Benghazi was always the Republicans grasping at straws –solely– for political purposes. Really? The American public is supposed to get all bent out of shape about altered talking points? The whole thing carried the whiff of desperation, of Republicans trying to milk the deaths of those four people for political gain. And now we’ve got CBS reporting that the Benghazi e-mails don’t say what the Republicans claimed they said.
Republicans can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Benghazi will fade from the public consciousness as the IRS business heats up.
And the IRS business should heat up. Let’s be clear – under Bush the lesser, the IRS investigated some liberal groups, including the NAACP. As Dave Wiegel reports today, last year around this time conservatives were calling for the non-profit Media Matters to be investigated by the IRS. Now that conservative groups were targeted, they’re plunging onto the fainting couch.
But, on this last bit, they’re correct: If the IRS is going to investigate political groups posing as “social welfare” organizations, they ought to investigate across the political spectrum, conservative and liberal groups.
In a different piece on Obama’s scandals, Jacob Weisberg notes:
In 2010, a spate of conservative groups was applying for tax-exempt status. This designation is available to organizations whose main activity is not political, so most of the groups were running a kind of scam by asking for it.
Get it? If the primary purpose of your group is political – as was surely the case with the tea parties, but not only the tea parties, and not only conservative groups – then you shouldn’t be getting tax-exempt status.
Groups formed for expressly political purposes, to advance an ideology and/or get candidates who share that ideology elected to office are not social welfare organizations. And they are neither entitled to, nor deserve, tax exemptions.
But the IRS’s Cincinnati office did systemically target conservative groups; there’s no evidence to suggest Obama ordered this, but it did happen on his watch. And it does validate a core **supposed** concern of the tea party: the perils of big government.
It validates, conservatives say, concerns about a national gun registry. Government cannot be trusted with the awesome power it possesses because there will always be the temptation for those in government – either at the top of the food chain, or somewhere on the lower rungs – to use that power for partisan gain, or personal gain. Better, then – goes this view – not to expand the power of government, not to give government carte blanche.
That’s going to be the theme of the print edition this weekend – and more and more I’m beginning to understand, even agree with, that argument.
DOJ’s seizure of the AP’s phone records would be a case in point. As I say in the print edition – consider that in our technological era, the data exists, is stored, and may be routinely monitored in terms of every phone call you make, every e-mail or text you send, everything you post on the Internet, and more. Ultimately, it is accessible to government. Are we to believe government won’t utilize this awesome capability? Oh, right, it’ll never be misused; they’ll only use it for “our own good.”
The AP thing could be, probably is, only the tip of the iceberg, all that we know about. Do you trust government in this respect? I sure as hell don’t.
But let’s go back to this, big government being the **supposed** concern of tea party types. Frankly, I am unconvinced that, were Obama a Republican and the groups targeted were liberal, that these tea partiers would be outraged.
I think, frankly, there are more than a few Republicans/conservatives who like big oppressive government just fine, so long as government is being used to oppress the people they don’t like. How many conservative complaints did we hear in regards to Bush’s warrantless wiretapping? I recall the opposite – conservatives who said, if you don’t have anything to hide, you didn’t have anything to fear.
So while the core argument here about big government may be valid – I suspect that a lot of people making that argument are full of it. This is, in the end, a partisan thing.
But it shouldn’t be. And that –may– be what comes out of this. Are there liberals out there who will say – look, this isn’t what I voted for, this is politics as usual and the whole idea was that we “hoped” to “change” that? Are there conservatives out there who are OUTRAGED!!!, but would be equally outraged if it was their side doing it?
We argue right and left, and in broad terms the “battle lines” are drawn as brightly as they ever were. But at the same time, there’s a new politics emerging that’s tired of the old politics, that’s tired of the likes of Sean Hannity demanding that Media Matters have its tax-exempt status yanked but shrieking about IRS oppression of the tea parties. There’s a weariness with the hypocrisy of hyperpartisanship. There are people who want to say, “this is wrong” – whomever did it.
If there can ever be an American consensus, maybe that could be it. At least, we can hope.