The politicization of the Internal Revenue Service is the worst kind of scandal for a president. The accusation is so simple you can tweet it, but to defend it you need a lawyer. And it comes with the post of IRS Commissioner vacant, leaving an unpopular federal agency less able to handle a widening crisis.
Most consider the vacancy in the IRS’ top job a problem—after all, Obama has no one to fire—but having the IRS Commissioner’s job open is a gift. Obama needs to fill it with someone credible both as a critic of his administration, the IRS and the federal government. If Obama wants to do something big to get through this scandal, he could appoint former Rep. Ron Paul to head the IRS.
No facts can explain away the IRS targeting groups just because they say they want to make “America a better place to live.” It does not matter that Obama agrees with his critics that what the IRS did was “outrageous”. Neither does it help Obama that his own Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation. It’s his IRS.
Intentions aside, the practical effect was that Obama’s IRS targeted his critics, demanding they answer invasive questions about their donors, Facebook posts and staff members’ political backgrounds, confirming the paranoid assumptions of tea party groups.
Said one Texas tea party official, “Let me tell you, the tea party is all about educating people about what’s really going on in the political process, because if they knew they would be outraged. This is a huge step in bringing that home. That’s what makes me so happy. This shows we’re not just some wacko conspiracy theorists. They really did target us. Everybody, every single American should be freaking out.”
As anyone who has ever been audited knows, life goes on during a crisis. The IRS can’t stop collecting taxes to deal with congressional subpoenas, media requests and a criminal investigation. The IRS needs a commissioner more than ever, but Obama hasn’t appointed anyone to this position since Donald Shulman, a George W. Bush holdover, quit in November.
Anyone Obama names as IRS Commissioner now will be assumed guilty of being an apologist for a dysfunctional federal government, an intrusive agency, and a newly floundering presidency—unless Obama boldly appoints a high-profile critic, making Paul, who distrusted the federal government before it was cool, the perfect choice.
Critic of the IRS? Check. Paul wants to abolish the IRS and get rid of the income tax. He had a sign on his desk in Congress that read, “Don’t Steal – the government hates the competition.” Unlike congressional Republicans, who seem like they can’t enjoy a sunny day unless it’s raining on Obama’s picnic, Paul’s criticism of the IRS is bi-partisan. In 1987 he even criticized Ronald Reagan for, among other things, violating the “financial privacy” of citizens.
Paul recently agreed with Obama that the Benghazi hearings are a “sideshow”, but no one would confuse him as the president’s ally. In fact, Paul is most popular with tea party types as the movement’s “intellectual godfather”, according to The Atlantic.
To be sure, giving the anti-establishment Ron Paul this high-profile post is unlikely to improve Obama’s relations with congressional Republicans. But that ship sailed, sank and was plundered for treasure long ago. Nothing short of Obama’s resignation and incarceration would appease his congressional inquisitors at this point.
And given Paul’s comfort level with radical thought and his reputation for actually believing what he says, there is the danger that Paul would intentionally impede the functions of the IRS by preventing the collection of taxes he deemed unconstitutional.
Appointing Paul to head a federal agency that he wants to abolish would be an uncharacteristically rash move for the deliberative, pondering Obama. But Paul just being in the commissioner’s chair might convince some of his critics that when it comes to the IRS scandal, Obama “gets it”. No matter how the scandal plays out, the IRS is open for business without a boss watching the store. Putting Paul, a colorful critic, in charge might help the IRS gain the credibility it desperately needs now to continue functioning.
© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @JasStanford.