Editor’s note: For an opposing opinion on this issue, see TRISTAN DE LIEGE’s column “Taxation.”
The recent scandal, in which the IRS targeted Tea Party groups, has had the usual effect of creating a lot of wild and crazy talk from wild and crazy right-wing pundits. We have to stop this nonsense in its tracks. If the right-wing thinks that they have been the primary victims of government suppression, then we can add that to the long list of cases in which they are living in a fantasy world, devoid of facts.
So it is certainly a scary and terrible problem that this happened to the Tea Party. No defender of liberty would deny that. Government coercion of political action allows them to decide who will win out in elections, thereby giving the already elected officials a major advantage. Of course, such an advantage would naturally snowball, to the point that elected officials could become un-removable, undermining democratic governance, turning us into USSR Redux.
There is obviously a problem with the IRS’s action, but the crucial point here is that we should not allow the Tea Party to draw the conclusions that they are drawing from this.
The Tea Party take themselves to be against “the government” as if the government were one entity, with one central command, operating with one interest in mind. Naturally, they would think that the government would be out to get them more than anyone. This is false.
The government is a collection of entities, each operating in the interests of those to whom it is accountable — usually its corporate or super PAC sponsors. So anti-government sentiment is not the primary enemy of these collective parts of the government.
When we look at the history of government suppression of political groups, it is certainly not the alleged anti-government, free-market zealots who have been the primary target. They have been targeted this time. But let’s look at far bigger and influential cases. If we added all of them up side by side, we would see that liberalizing movements have been the victims of government suppression far more often.
A note on methodology: this is not an armchair issue. We do not sit and pontificate about who has been targeted by the government; we look. Tea Partiers seem to take this as an issue that one can decide without any empirical investigation, as they frequently do. Cases like welfare or gun control are treated by the right-wing as armchair issues as well. But this must be the case. If the right wing started to base their views on fact rather than mere pontification, they would simply have nothing to say.
People don’t often give nearly enough credit to the effectiveness of the Red Scare. That was government suppression of ideology to a degree that outweighs the IRS’s targeting of the Tea Party by an astronomical scale. The core concepts behind the liberal movement were completely defanged. What is liberalism without its fundamental Marxist assumptions? Nothing. That is why progressive movements have been losing power since the 1970s (despite growing support). There is a direct correlation between the Red Scare and the undermining of progressive movements that culminated decades after the Red Scare ended.
In 1969, the chairman of the Black Panther party was assassinated in his bed by Chicago police. The Black Panthers were a socialist group who advocated social justice on behalf of all disempowered groups, and they were far from the nutjobs that the corporate media portrays them as.
The CIA spent millions of dollars to help popularize the art of Jackson Pollock. Besides completely sucking aesthetically, Pollock was white and not a socialist, making him a far superior alternative to the artists who were popular at the time, such as adamant socialist couple Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The CIA was well aware that manipulating the public into buying pro-capitalist ideology would be most effective if they could nullify the main place that real leftism had a voice — in the arts.
These examples show that pro-capitalist ideologies have historically been the major recipient of aid by government coercion. If it weren’t for the massive government coercion of political movements, there probably wouldn’t be a right wing. The snowballing effect of their destruction of some political groups and funding of others should not be underestimated. It is huge, and it has usually favored the ideology now endorsed by Tea Partiers. I’m sorry that they have been the victims of such evil in this far smaller instance.
Besides, this Monday’s DemocracyNow! showed how even while the Tea Party was targeted, the IRS benefitted right wing ideology a great deal more than the Tea Party was hurt. I suggest giving it a read.
In short, the Tea Partiers should not be playing the victim card quite so hard here. They sound almost as absurd as the Christians do when they claim to be oppressed by the rest of the society while in fact they are, to a far greater degree, oppressors themselves.
BRIAN MOEN pities the Tea Partiers for the IRS thing, but he pities their fanatical sensationalism much more. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.