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May 23, 2013 9:57 AM Return of the Poor Little Rich Boys

By Ed Kilgore

You have to hand it to Mitch McConnell. While other scandal-mad Republicans are off on a wild goose chase that could well end in 1998, McConnell’s focused on exploiting scandals to promote his very favorite cause, and his special gift to the corruption of American politics: hiding the identity of big campaign donors. His op-ed in today’s Washington Post aims at convincing us that conservative donors obviously need anonymity because they will otherwise be persecuted by Obama-inspired bureaucrats and union thugs.

Not since Ted Olson’s Wall Street Journal op-ed last year throwing a pity party for his clients the Brothers Koch have we seen anything quite like McConnell’s inversion of reality. For one thing, the whole piece is based on the false premise that the selective scrutiny of Tea Party groups by the IRS in reviewing 501(c)(4) applications represents a “culture of intimidation” aimed at silencing conservatives. Even if you buy the “money equals speech” formulation that is at the center of Mitch McConnell’s world view—yea, it is perhaps his actual religion—that doesn’t mean “tax exemptions equal speech.” The idea that members of Tea Party groups whose (c)(4) applications were in limbo were hiding in their closets, weeping in fear and awaiting the sound of the first jackboot at their door, is a complete fabrication, even for the more paranoid of that breed.

But even if you buy the idea that incompetent fumbling over exemption applications actually represents persecution, the idea that efforts to force disclosure of large donors to organizations running political ads (the idea of the DISCLOSE Act that is the main target of McConnell’s ire) would unleash the liberal hordes on poor, defenseless little rich boys who just happen to sincerely believe they shouldn’t have to pay taxes to support those people is ha-larious. Is anonymity really their only line of defense? Don’t we have laws against real acts of persecution, public and private? Do donors pouring tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns to nuke opponents and protect their economic interests really have a right to avoid the disdain that exposure would bring? In all the endless efforts to create Obama Scandals, has anyone yet come up with a tangible harm (and no, I’m sorry, the failure to get a quick answer on an application for tax-exempt status doesn’t qualify) suffered by the president’s identified enemy? With all this persecution going on, why aren’t the jails crammed with poor innocent conservatives and the streets running with blood as poor little rich boys flee union thugs?

McConnell’s argument really boils down to the claim that donors who hate on government or on Barack Obama have to be given anonymity because government and Barack Obama don’t like being hated on and therefore might retaliate, as evidenced by the IRS “scandal” and Obama’s “class warfare” speeches, which created a “culture of intimidation.” That’s just another way of saying that conservative political activity is a form of self-defense for the rich against the power of rapacious liberalism, and that the rules governing political activity should privilege that self-defense, since after all liberals can’t be expected to treat them fairly (i.e., leave them alone to spend their money and treat their employees as they please).

I don’t know how much sympathy a cold-eyed cynic like McConnell can engender for this line of defense outside the boardroom set and the Tea Party fever swamps, where the very existence of liberalism is often considered an outrageous defiance of the Will of God as expressed through the Founders. But as always, you have to admire his chutzpah.

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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