Conservative Principles versus Hypocrisy on Big Government

One of the biggest myths in politics is that Republicans support small government. They invariably use calls for small government to oppose most programs when out of office, but government shows tremendous growth whenever Republicans are in power. This includes both new programs and wage and price controls under Richard Nixon to the major expansions in government spending under Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Of course Republicans tend to be selective when discussing big government, ignoring both unfunded wars and their push for greater government interference in the private lives of individuals.

Ezra Klein had a post yesterday entitled How Republicans stopped worrying and learned to love big government. This title could actually have been used many times over the past decades and for a variety of policies. Ezra used this for just one particular hypocrisy on the part of Republicans, a “demand that the federal government start predicting the deficit 30 years into the future.” Ezra outlined the difficulties in making such projections, and pointed out how this demand contradicts a key Republican belief:

A core insight of conservatism is that central planning fails because economies are too complicated for governments to effectively predict. But if you believe the government can usefully predict the path of the economy not just over the next 10 years but over 30, then you should be begging the government to intervene more directly in economic affairs.

Conservatives are generally correct in this criticism of central planning, as long as this idea isn’t used, as many conservatives do, to argue against any government regulation of the economy. This contradiction is also somewhat analogous to another hypocritical argument being made by conservatives lately regarding the IRS handling of Tea Party applications for tax breaks. While Republicans generally, and again often correctly, complain about how big and unwieldy the federal government can be, they also argue that Barack Obama must have been aware of, and actually directing for sinister purposes,  what low level IRS career bureaucrats were doing wrong because they are part of his administration.

Conservative economics actually do include some core beliefs which make sense. However, modern conservatives tend to fail to understand how these principles apply to the real world, while liberals tend to agree with these conservative beliefs where they make sense (despite the many straw man attacks seen on liberal views from the right).

Conservatives Spreading Fake Story To Invent IRS Smoking Gun

The recent IRS scandal provides a good example of the way in which the right wing noise machine spreads misinformation. Here they have a real abuse–the increased scrutiny of conservative organizations applying for tax breaks. Too many conservatives cannot settle for what is actually there and insist upon trying to turn it into a Watergate-style standard, which it doesn’t come close to being. From the actual evidence so far we have lower level bureaucrats in the IRS taking short cuts. We have no evidence of a case of a president using the IRS to harass political enemies, as was done by Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. Now the conservative claim to have found a smoking gun, but it has blown up in their faces.

The Daily Caller checked public visitor records and believed that they found that former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House 157 times since Obama took office. To the paranoid conservative mind, this must have meant that Obama was meeting with Shulman plotting how the IRS would harass conservative groups.

There are so many holes in this story. The 157 episodes documented are times in which Shulman was cleared to visit the White House or Executive Office Building. This included everything from meetings regarding the IRS’s role in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act to possibly the annual Easter Egg Roll with his kids.  This does not mean meetings with Obama to plot attacks on conservatives. Plus, while this represents times in which Shulman was cleared to visit the White House and Executive Office Building, there is only confirmation that he attended eleven events.

Conservatives have also tried to compare this bogus 157 number to the number of times his predecessor visited with George Bush. We will never know. The Obama White House remains less transparent than many of us hope, but it is a considerable improvement over the Bush White House, which didn’t release the visitor logs the way that Obama did.


Bob Dole And Ronald Reagan Would Not Have Made It In Today’s Republican Party

I have often pointed out that actual views of  past conservatives, even ones still held up as founders of the conservative movement, would not be welcome by the extremist and reactionary members of the current conservative movement. Barry Goldwater was strongly opposed to social conservatism and the influence of the religious right on the Republican Party to the point where he considered himself a liberal in his later years. Richard Nixon supported social conservatism but also supported a form of activist government which neither liberals or conservatives support. Ronald Reagan had the right rhetoric for the conservative movement, but was not as out of touch with reality as modern conservatives, supporting increases in taxes and the debt ceiling which today’s conservatives would protest without even considering their merit. Bob Dole correctly added himself to this list.

In an interview on Fox News Sunday Bob Dole responded to questions on the Republican abuse of the filibuster and whether he could have made it in today’s party:

“I doubt it,” he said in an interview aired on “Fox News Sunday” when asked if his generation of Republican leaders could make it in today’s GOP. “Reagan couldn’t have made it. Certainly, Nixon couldn’t have made it, cause he had ideas. We might’ve made it, but I doubt it.”

Dole, a wounded World War II veteran from Kansas and icon of the party, said he believes it needs to rethink the direction it’s heading in.

“They ought to put a sign on the National Committee doors that says ‘Closed for repairs,’ until New Year’s Day next year,” he said. “And spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas.”

Video is above.

Dole agreed the filibuster is being over-used and criticized Barack Obama for not reaching out more to lawmakers during his first term. In reality Obama moved far to the right in attempts to reach agreement with Republicans. This was not successful as Republican leaders placed opposition to Obama, and their goal of trying to deny him a second term, over support for policies they have supported in the past as well as over the good of the country.

Republican Hysteria Over Pseudo-Scandals Prevents Consideration Of Real Problems

Scandals cartoon

One consequence of a dysfunctional opposition party which is more concerned with scoring political points than the good of the country is that we have a combination of attacks over fabricated scandals while ignoring real problems. The Republicans have concentrated on Benghazi, even resorting to distorting evidence, and the IRS, which looks far more like low level bureaucrats taking short cuts than any Nixonian abuse of power coming from the White House, despite the Republican attempts to move the goal posts.

One problem with trying to turn real problems into a political scandal is that the actual problems are not addressed. We need to look at issues such as how organizations are evaluated for favorable tax status and how foreign embassies are defended, not twist the facts to blame Obama. Strangely, conservatives who speak out (sometimes correctly) about the size of our bureaucracy fail to understand that the president does not personally make every decision. Republicans who ignored actual abuses of power under George Bush see everything which might go wrong as evidence of evil intent on the part of the current president.

There is a report today which provides hope that some Republican staffers, at least, are looking at trying to learn from the Benghazi attack:

The inquiry led by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into the slaying of four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year has been attention-grabbing, but some senior GOP aides are worried that the partisan overtones are diverting Congress from identifying and addressing the real lessons learned from the attack.

In particular, these aides say key staffers have been overly consumed with chasing down or addressing inaccurate or unfounded accusations emerging from the inquiry.

“We have got to get past that and figure out what are we going to do going forward,” a GOP aide stressed. “Some of the accusations, I mean you wouldn’t believe some of this stuff. It’s just — I mean, you’ve got to be on Mars to come up with some of this stuff.”

In this charged political environment, where some on Capitol Hill have accused the president of a possible cover-up related to the attack just weeks before the 2012 presidential election, defense policy Republicans are trying to refocus attention on core issues and create some good out of the tragedy.

Hopeful, but I fear that the Republicans will still prefer to mislead their base in order to motivate them to turn out and contribute money as opposed to turning to reality-based governing.

One sign of business as usual among Republicans is that Darryl Issa, who pursues his job with the vigor and lack of integrity of Joseph McCarthy, is now attacking IRS inspector general J. Russell George.

Another problem is that real questions involving civil liberties are ignored, primarily as the Republicans would support greater violations. The Obama administration’s actions towards the AP raises First Amendment concerns even if this was done within the law and there are extenuating factors which also must be considered.While conservatives are generally only concerned with abuses which target conservatives, and which often only exist in their imagination, liberals have been non-partisan regarding both the IRS and the media. Liberals were no less likely to be concerned in principle that the target was from Fox with the naming of a  correspondent as a possible “co-conspirator” in an investigation of a news leak . The New York Times concluded their editorial on the matter by writing:

Obama administration officials often talk about the balance between protecting secrets and protecting the constitutional rights of a free press. Accusing a reporter of being a “co-conspirator,” on top of other zealous and secretive investigations, shows a heavy tilt toward secrecy and insufficient concern about a free press.

Along with excessive secrecy, in contrast to campaign promises to have the most open and transparent government in history, the use of drone strikes has led to much of the criticism of Obama from the left. There is some good news on this today, also from The New York Times:

President Obama embraced drone strikes in his first term, and the targeted killing of suspected terrorists has come to define his presidency.

But lost in the contentious debate over the legality, morality and effectiveness of a novel weapon is the fact that the number of strikes has actually been in decline. Strikes in Pakistan peaked in 2010 and have fallen sharply since then; their pace in Yemen has slowed to half of last year’s rate; and no strike has been reported in Somalia for more than a year.

We cannot rely on Congressional over-site as the Republicans would be more likely to promote greater use of drones and show far less concern over issues of either legality or morality. There have been mixed signs that the Obama administration has been moving towards establishing greater consideration of institutionalizing changes in warfare with development of due process and ideally judicial over-site. Hopefully this reduction in the use of drones indicates a greater consideration of the consequences of this policy.


Only Republican Base Believes GOP Noise On The Pseudo-Scandals

Despite all the Republican noise about Watergate-style scandals, most Americans are not being fooled. A CNN poll found President Obama’s approval at 53 percent, up from 51 percent in April (which is within the margin or error). Greg Sargent summarized how the internals of the poll find that only Republicans are falling for this:

* The IRS scandal: Among overall Americans, 61 percent say what Obama has said about the matter is mostly or completely true, versus only 35 percent who say it’s mostly or completely false. Among Republicans, 68 percent say what Obama has claimed is false, and among conservatives, 56 percent say this.But independents believe what Obama has said is true by 58-36, and moderates believe this by 71-25.

Meanwhile, among overall Americans, 55 percent say the IRS acted on its own in targeting conservative groups, while only 37 percent say the White House ordered it.  Among Republicans, 62 percent say the White House ordered it, and among conservatives, 54 percent believe this.But independents believe the IRS acted on its own by 53-36, and moderates believe this by 65-29.

* The Benghazi story: Among overall Americans, 50 percent believe early statements about the attacks by Obama officials reflected what the administration believed at the time, while 44 percent believe they intentionally misled. Among Republicans, 76 percent believe they intentionally misled, and among conservatives, 65 percent believe this. But moderates believe the statements reflected the administration’s beliefs by 60-35. (Among independents this isn’t as pronounced, but still, a plurality sides with the White House, 47-44.)

As long as Democrats and independents are not being fooled by Republican noise the Democrats should not have any serious political problems from these pseudo-scandals. However, the Republicans might receive some benefit from deceiving their base as this could increase turnout and contributions from the right.

Republicans are also attempting a strange shifting of the goal posts in trying to define whether there is a Wategate-style coverup. Republicans who abused power, such as Ricard Nixon and George W. Bush, would have the IRS investigate and harass political enemies. In the situation currently under investigation, lower-level IRS agents appear to be at fault, with those higher up conducting an investigation when the improper treatment of right wing organizations was uncovered. This is how the system should have worked, but Republicans are trying to twist things into claiming that knowledge of the probe by the Treasury Department or anyone in the White House suggests a coverup. It would have been a coverup if the White House had tried to hinder an investigation, but knowledge of the investigation and allowing it to proceed demonstrates nothing wrong.

Steve Benen points out an amusing twist to all of this. The White House (but initially not Barack Obama) became aware of the investigation in April, 2013.  However, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was informed back in July 2012.  Should Democrats be accusing Issa of a coverup?

There were certainly mistakes made at lower levels, but there has been absolutely no evidence of either abuse of power or a coverup in the Obama administration. The only recent president who might be compared to Richard Nixon and Watergate was George W. Bush, not Barack Obama.

IRS Acted Improperly Without Evidence Of Involvement By Obama Administration

The investigations are far from over (especially as the Republicans will continue to milk this as long as they can) but evidence so far shows that  improper things were done by IRS agents with  no evidence of any involvement by the Obama administration.

USA Today reports that the IRS did approve tax-except status for some liberal groups while holding up applications from conservative groups

As applications from conservative groups sat in limbo, groups with liberal-sounding names had their applications approved in as little as nine months. With names including words like “Progress” or “Progressive,” the liberal groups applied for the same tax status and were engaged in the same kinds of activities as the conservative groups.

Reports so far do suggest that there was a clear tendency to place more scrutiny on conservative groups but the same article does report that the IRS didn’t exclusively target conservative groups:

Some liberal groups did get additional scrutiny, although they still got their tax-exempt status while the Tea Party moratorium was in effect. For the “independent progressive” group Action for a Progressive Future, which runs the web site, the tax-exempt process took 18 months and also involved intrusive questions.

Bloomberg also found that some liberal groups were treated as the conservative groups were:

The Internal Revenue Service, under pressure after admitting it targeted anti-tax Tea Party groups for scrutiny in recent years, also had its eye on at least three Democratic-leaning organizations seeking nonprofit status.

One of those groups, Emerge America, saw its tax-exempt status denied, forcing it to disclose its donors and pay some taxes. None of the Republican groups have said their applications were rejected.

Progress Texas, another of the organizations, faced the same lines of questioning as the Tea Party groups from the same IRS office that issued letters to the Republican-friendly applicants. A third group, Clean Elections Texas, which supports public funding of campaigns, also received IRS inquiries.

I wonder whether any of these political groups should really be receiving special tax treatment, but if tax exemptions are being given the same criteria should apply regardless of whether the organization is liberal or conservative.

CNN reports that two rogue IRS employees were primarily responsible for the extra scrutiny of conservative groups:

The Internal Revenue Service has identified two “rogue” employees in the agency’s Cincinnati office as being principally responsible for “overly aggressive” handling of requests by conservative groups for tax-exempt status, a congressional source told CNN.

In a meeting on Capitol Hill, acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller described the employees as being “off the reservation,” according to the source. It was not clear precisely what the alleged behavior involved.

Miller said the staffers have already been disciplined, according to another source familiar with Miller’s discussions with congressional investigators. The second source said Miller emphasized that the problem with IRS handling of tax-exempt status for tea party groups was not limited to these two employees.

While the misconduct at the IRS demands investigation, the politics provides a story which is just as interesting. Conservative groups tended to ignore direct abuses of power by the Bush administration, but both liberals and conservatives are condemning the targeting of conservative groups. There is a long history of liberals defending civil liberties regardless of the victim while conservatives have typically been more selective in taking sides on civil liberties issues.

Conservatives would love to tie this scandal to President Obama, who has condemned the misbehavior at the IRS. It is unlikely that any connection between the White House and this scandal will be uncovered. Most positions at the IRS are held by civil servants and the IRS Commissioner at the time was Doug Shulman, a Republican who had been appointed by George W. Bush.

While there is no sign of a Watergate-style scandal here, we can expect Republicans to continue to make noise about this. Unlike most of the scandals they scream about which are almost entirely fictitious, there was real wrong-doing here, even if not by the Obama administration. Generally Republicans have resorted to fear, greed, racism, and xenophobia in their appeals to the base. This gives the Republicans a scandal which they can use to fire up the base, and use for fund raising, which will not alienate people outside of their bubble. This also allows Republican leaders to align themselves with the Tea Party without necessarily embracing their nuttier views.

Cry Wolf Often Enough And Conservatives Are Bound To Be Right (As With Claims Of Being Targeted By The IRS)

With conservatives loving to play the part of the victim and inventing all sorts of outrageous transgressions in their imaginations, it is often hard to take anything they say seriously. Today it was revealed that their claims of  being targeted by the IRS are true:

The Internal Revenue Service on Friday apologized for targeting groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, confirming long-standing accusations by some conservatives that their applications for tax-exempt status were being improperly delayed and scrutinized.

Lois Lerner, the IRS official who oversees tax-exempt groups, said the “absolutely inappropriate” actions by “front-line people” were not driven by partisan motives.

Rather, Lerner said, they were a misguided effort to come up with an efficient means of dealing with a flood of applications from organizations seeking tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012.

During that period, about 75 groups were selected for extra inquiry — including burdensome questionnaires and, in some cases, improper requests for the names of their donors — simply because of the words in their names, she said in a conference call with reporters.

Lerner is also sure to regret admitting “I’m not good at math” even if she is an attorney.

It is difficult to understand how she can say that they were not driven by partisan motives when the victims were of a specific political philosophy. While only speculation, I wonder if some people at the IRS believed that groups which have a philosophical opposition to taxation are more likely to violate tax laws. In the absence of any evidence against these specific groups, that would be wrong. Criticizing the IRS and our tax system should be protected speech under the First Amendment. Advocating change in laws which a group disagrees with is allowed under our system of government and is not evidence in itself that they are violating the laws they want changed.

I might also be over thinking this. It might have been a more visceral and petty reaction, retaliating against those who criticize their organization. That would also be wrong. We do need a full investigation as opposed to speculation as to their motives.

The IRS says that this came from lower level people and was stopped by those higher up. While there is no evidence to question this so far, this also needs to be investigated.

Reaction to this is varied. Mitch McConnell is calling for an investigation, and he is right to do so, even if there is no evidence of a comparison to the Nixon White House. . Hopefully this remains a proper investigation and doesn’t turn it into yet another politicized witch-hunt which Republicans have spent so much time (and tax payer money) conducting.

Portions of the conservative blogosphere are, as would be expected, showing that they are out of touch with reality even on an issue where conservative groups are right. American Thinker  writes:

And who are these “low-level” employees in Cincinnati who started the reviews? Are we seriously to believe that a couple of minor bureaucrats could alter IRS policy so easily?  If that’s the case, what other abuses isn’t the IRS telling us about?

To be part of a government run by a Democratic president and then investigate opposition groups, harassing them, trying to discourage their political activities is the sort of thing we find in Russia.

Ridiculous reactions of this type don’t help conservatives. Of course this is the same site which compares Benghazi to Watergate and yesterday tried to find a way to justify this article title: Ariel Castro, Cleveland Kidnapper, Is a Registered Democrat. (I an having trouble finding their articles criticizing real abuses of power during the Bush years from the unconstitutional attempts to expand the power of the presidency to the K-Street Project. I had no trouble finding plenty of examples at the site promoting the right wing’s imaginary case against ACORN or claiming that Barack Obama is a socialist.)

There is absolutely no evidence that we have a Democratic president exercising autocratic powers against their enemies. Historically this has more often been a Republican practice. And how are liberal bloggers responding? Are they lining up along ideological grounds, cheering on these abuses against the right. No, not at all. Liberal response has been that this is wrong and warrants a full investigation. Steve Benen wrote:

The boys who cried wolf may have dubious credibility, but to mix metaphors, even a broken clock is right twice a day.I suppose one might argue that Tea Party groups were inherently partisan, and their claims for tax-exempt status were suspect given the movement’s larger purpose, but it’s a tough sell. The IRS is supposed to be even-handed, and in several cases, it seems clear that the agency was not.

This is the sort of thing that costs officials their jobs…

For a change, all of these complaints are legitimate. There really was wrongdoing. Groups really were treated unfairly. It’d be wrong to dismiss the complaints, assuming the right is just manufacturing some new pseudo-scandal; this really does deserve to be taken seriously.

Also see responses from Think ProgressKevin Drum and Greg Sargent. The left has stuck with principle (and is concerned with uncovering the actual facts)  as opposed to following the right’s usual logic of support or opposition based upon partisan lines, while ignoring the facts.

Emails Debunk Woodward’s Claims Of Threats By Obama White House

Bob Woodward’s nonsense about the budget battle and sequester is increasingly looking like a pathetic attempt to get attention. Woodward has been been making blatantly incorrect claims about the situation along with baseless attacks on Obama. He tried to top that by claiming that the Obama White House has been engaging in Nixonian personal attacks on him. Gawker has repeated some of Woodward’s claims that he has been threatened:

Woodward appeared on CNN’s Situation Room to discuss his claims regarding the sequester. When Wolf Blitzer asked him to described the White House’s reactions to his claims, Woodward paraphrased the above email exchange, attributing it to a “very senior” White House official. Here is what Woodward said:

“It was said very clearly, you will regret doing this… It makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters ‘You will regret’ doing something that you believe in.’ I think if Barack Obama knew that was part of the communications strategy—let’s hope it’s not a strategy, but as a tactic—he’d say look, we don’t go around saying to reporters, you will regret this.”


Woodward doubled down on his claims about the White House “strategy” in a The Politico interview published last night:

Woodward repeated the last sentence, making clear he saw it as a veiled threat. “‘You’ll regret.’ Come on,” he said. “I think if Obama himself saw the way they’re dealing with some of this, he would say, ‘Whoa, we don’t tell any reporter ‘you’re going to regret challenging us.'”

“They have to be willing to live in the world where they’re challenged,” Woodward continued in his calm, instantly recognizable voice. “I’ve tangled with lots of these people. But suppose there’s a young reporter who’s only had a couple of years – or 10 years’ – experience and the White House is sending him an email saying, ‘You’re going to regret this.’ You know, tremble, tremble. I don’t think it’s the way to operate

Today Politico released the actual email exchange:

From Gene Sperling to Bob Woodward on Feb. 22, 2013


I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall — but feel on the other hand that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here.

But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand barain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start. It was an accepted part of the understanding — from the start. Really. It was assumed by the Rs on the Supercommittee that came right after: it was assumed in the November-December 2012 negotiations. There may have been big disagreements over rates and ratios — but that it was supposed to be replaced by entitlements and revenues of some form is not controversial. (Indeed, the discretionary savings amount from the Boehner-Obama negotiations were locked in in BCA: the sequester was just designed to force all back to table on entitlements and revenues.)

I agree there are more than one side to our first disagreement, but again think this latter issue is diffferent. Not out to argue and argue on this latter point. Just my sincere advice. Your call obviously.

My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize.


Hardly sounds very threatening, and from his response it doesn’t appear that Woodward initially saw this as a threat:

From Woodward to Sperling on Feb. 23, 2013

Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I know you lived all this. My partial advantage is that I talked extensively with all involved. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3 pm today. Best, Bob

Conservative writers  were initially excited about Woodward’s attacks on the Obama White House, but Media Matters cites several who now realize “we got played.”

No Surprise: Republicans Moving To Far Right While Democrats Moving Towards Middle

The Republican Party has moved to the far right in recent years–far to the right of Barry Goldwater and even Ronald Reagan–while the Democrats have moved towards the middle. The voteview blog has analyzed recent presidents and the result is exactly what we already knew:

Our findings here echo those discussed in a prior post that Republicans have moved further to the right than Democrats to the left in the contemporary period. Indeed, as seen below, President Obama is the most moderate Democratic president since the end of World War II, while President George W. Bush was the most conservative president in the post-war era.

On the other hand, in many ways Obama has had success at passing liberal polices in some areas where other Democratic presidents have failed. This success might be partially because of his moderation, and that a more liberal Democrat might have had fewer successes.

Idea For Fox Began With Roger Ailes In Nixon White House

Gawker uncovered this document showing how Roger Ailes came up with the idea of using television to circumvent the real news media to deliver “pro-administration” stories to viewers during the Nixon era. The advantage of television was that, “People are lazy. With television you just sit — watch — listen. The thinking is done for you.”

Richard Nixon didn’t survive, but Roger Ailes went on to put his plan into action at Fox.