The Arrogance of the IRS

Carol Platt Liebau
Posted: May 23, 2013 8:59 AM

If there is no other takeaway from the IRS scandal, it is that our Internal Revenue Service needs a serious organizational attitude adjustment.  Two examples from recent days come immediately to mind.

First, there's Lois Lerner's invocation of the Fifth Amendment yesterday.  Now, in some situations, it's possible to have sympathy for those who, like Lois Lerner, have invoked the Fifth Amendment -- particularly if they're doing so in the context of a politically-delicate, overzealous federal prosecution of some non-violent offense.  

But Lois Lerner's use of the Fifth Amendment yesterday was unbelievably galling -- and here's why.  It's about the hypocrisy.  Even taking her own words at face value -- that she's innocent -- she's invoking the Fifth because she doesn't want to subject herself to the embarrassing, intrusive, highly personal stress of federal invesigation.Well, guess what her agency -- with her knowledge -- was routinely doing to conservative groups?  And that's why her assertion of the Fifth was so contemptible.  She's trying to escape herself the same kinds of unpleasantness she (and others at her agency) knowingly inflicted upon innocent people whose only offense was seeking non-profit or 501(c)(4) status.

The second example is the IRS blowing its congressional deadline for producing certain specified emails related to the targeting scandal. Imagine what would happen to you if you decided simply not to comply with demands for documents from the IRS.

The overarching theme of the IRS scandal thus far -- from Lerner, to the obnoxious testimony of Steven Miller, to the flouting of document requests -- has been arrogance.  This is what's known as the arrogance of power.  Far too much, for far too long, far too many people there have been given too much power with too little accountability. It has bred a culture of entitlement, imperiousness, and contempt for the people government is supposed to serve.

In America, government is not supposed to be the master.  Government is the servant.  But that's the kind of mentality and service orientation that disappears as soon as government becomes too big and too powerful.

It's time for a thorough reform and rethinking about the tax code and the agency that's supposed to enforce it with justice and humility.