New Republic Boldly Blames Tea Party for IRS Scandal


In the May 2013 issue of Reason, Matt Welch wrote an article about how the venerable (read: old) magazine The New Republic was returning "to its Progressive roots as a cheerleader for state power."

Despite cashiering the longtime, widely mocked, and out-of-touch vanity publisher/editor Martin Peretz and installing a hip new Facebook gazillionaire at the top of the masthead, getting a graphic redesign, and even sitting down for a pillow fight cum interview with Barack Obama, Welch argued, this latest iteration of The New Republic is looking pretty much like the same-old same-old.

So what can we expect from the new New Republic? Judging from its output since the redesign, this is a magazine that is prepared to spend (and therefore lose) more money than it has in a generation, which is good news for liberal journalists at least. Top-shelf writers Michael Lewis, Walter Kirn, and Michael Kinsley graced the Obama interview issue; Sam Tanenhaus and Julia Ioffe anchored the next.

But the political discussion proceeds as if the failed liberal experiments of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s never happened.

Rather than drawing useful lessons from a tradition of bracing contrarianism embodied by Washington Monthly founder Charlie Peters (who trained many writers and editors who would go on to work at The New Republic in its late '70s and '80s heyday), Welch prophesied

The reformist urge to cross-examine Democratic policy ideas has fizzled out precisely at the time when those ideas are both ascendant and as questionable as ever. Progressivism has reverted to a form that would have been recognizable to Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann when they founded The New Republic a century ago: an intellectual collaborator in the "responsible" exercise of state power.

Which brings us to a truly amazing article up at tnr.com, "Notes on a Trumped-Up Scandal," by Noam Scheiber. Despite the president himself acknowledging that the IRS acted improperly in subjecting tax-status applications of Tea Party groups to politicized scrutiny, Scheiber writes,

The crime here had nothing to do with "targeting" conservatives. The targeting was effectively done by the conservative groups themselves, when they filed their gratuitous applications. The crime, such as it is, was twofold. First, in the course of legitimately vetting questionable applications, the IRS appears to have been more intrusive than justified, asking for information about donors whose privacy it should have respected. This is unfortunate and intolerable, but not quite a threat to democracy.

Second, the IRS was tone deaf to how its scrutiny would look to the people being scrutinized, given that they all subscribed to the same worldview, and that they were already nursing a healthy persecution complex. 

Scheiber makes great hay out of the idea that 501(c)4 groups don't have to get cleared by the IRS before they can start their engines. If they want to, they can file at year's end and hope for the best. In Scheiber's take, to pre-emptively apply—that is, to try and actually follow the law—is a sign of a persecution complex and "neurosis."

In passing, Scheiber repeats the claim that "the IRS was unexpectedly flooded by dodgy 501c4 applications and was at a loss over how to manage them." Which turns out to be, um, not true.

But that shouldn't matter, should it? Because you know what's really funny about this whole thing, according to Scheiber? That Tea Party groups are mostly on the right and lots of people on the right are in favor of racial profiling. And really, isn't what the IRS was doing just a variation on profiling:

You know who is reliably enthusiastic about profiling? The conservatives who are hopping mad about the IRS Tea Party flap.

Read the whole piece here.

And then go check out early issues of The Washington Monthly to get a sense of what liberal opposition to unjustified state power used to look like.

I first learned of Scheiber's piece from the Twitter feed of Kirsten Powers. Read also Hot Air's Mary Katharine Ham on the story.