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May 30, 2013 4:30 PM Lois Lerner, Totalitarian Menace

By Ed Kilgore

One of the big underlying questions in Scandalmania ‘13 is whether its purveyors would move carefully and strategically to build support for their efforts among Americans who are not strongly partisan, or instead succumb to the temptation to use “scandals” to tell “the base” it was right all along about the unprecedented, frightening “secular socialism” of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

The strength of that temptation is demonstrated today by National Review editor Rich Lowry, who penned a remarkable opinion piece for Politico entitled “The Lois Lerner State.”

Gaze in awe:

It is appropriate that the worst scandal of the Obama administration— the IRS targeting of conservatives — is a scandal of administrators and bureaucrats, of otherwise faceless people endowed with immense power over their fellow citizens and running free of serious oversight from elected officials.
They are the shock troops of the vast bureaucratic apparatus of the federal government. Its growth has been one of President Obama’s chief goals, and the one he has had the most success in achieving. He has greatly enhanced the reach and power of regulatory agencies that are an inherent offense against self-government, even when they aren’t enforcing the law in a biased way.
The administration’s corruption isn’t bags of cash or lies about interns; it is the distortion of our form of government by sidestepping democratic procedures and accountability and vesting authority in bureaucrats. The administrative state is, fundamentally, the Lois Lerner state.

I can’t bring myself to quote more, but would observe that Lowry keeps dancing on the edge of self-parody in trying to make this feckless IRS manager, who blew the whistle on herself after engaging in the nightmarish police-state activity of denying political groups a presumptive tax exemption, into a symbol of incipient totalitarianism.

His logic, if you want to call it that, is to suggest that any time Congress enacts a law impinging on the private sector that’s not more or less self-executing, it enables a frightening, unaccountable bureaucratic machine that routinely destroys individual liberty.

The identification of the IRS with satanic government activism is particularly rich (no pun intended) coming from the Right, since the use of tax provisions to serve as carrots and sticks for federal legislative initiatives has always been preferred by conservatives to direct federal delivery of services. Is the effort to expand health care coverage via the Heritage Foundation’s idea of an individual insurance mandate enforced by the IRS truly monstrous, as Lowry argues? So okay: how about a single-payer system? Are you down with that non-bureaucratic approach? No, I didn’t think so. Lowry’s implicit answer to this “crisis” isn’t less bureaucratic government, but just less government.

Insofar as we really can’t expect Congress to write laws that are self-executing when it comes to much of anything that matters, the thrust of Lowry’s argument is that it ought to stop doing much of anything that matters. That becomes clear when he uses the terrifying image of Lois Lerner to argue that liberty cannot co-exist with the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank, or immigration reform. There’s no thought given to the possibility that this sort of radically limited state, which of course Lowry claims as the Founders’ Design, would expose the American people to the uncontrolled depredations of another vast, unaccountable set of bureaucracies that interfere with the lives of most Americans significantly more than the federal government, and that absent regulation would have zero interest in the welfare of the public or in liberty: corporations.

Would the United States really be a paradise of freedom and opportunity and good will if government “interference” with “normal” life went away? Maybe for those who already have the wealth and power to obtain the resources and opportunities they need for a good, healthy, happy and productive life. Everybody else has bigger problems than the specter of Lois Lerner.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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