Call me a hopeless dreamer, but there ought to be a rule in politics banning anyone who caused a crisis from later bitching about the crisis. For the last four years, we’ve witnessed the Republicans, who voted for every Bush-era spending bill and irresponsible tax cut, crapping their cages over the size of the resulting deficit and debt — again, a deficit and debt that they themselves created without uttering even a shrug of protest during eight years in which a surplus transformed into a record deficit. Not a word — except to condemn the Democratic president who was unfortunate enough to inherit the chaos.
Likewise, as we observe the mayhem surrounding the dueling “scandals” of Benghazi, the IRS and the Associated Press phone records subpoena, the Republicans, true to form, are tripping over each other in a mad dash to scream “Impeach!” into the next nearest cable news video camera. There’s only one problem: when it comes to the IRS situation and the AP phone debacle, the Republicans created the chain-reactions that led to these scandals.
Let’s begin with the IRS scandal first.
While it looks really, really bad for one of the most feared agencies within the Democratically-controlled executive branch to have been exclusively scrutinizing conservative groups, we only need to rewind to the Supreme Court’s reprehensible Citizens United decision to figure out why all of this is going on. The conservative Roberts court not only opened the floodgates allowing unlimited and unregulated corporate money to flow into campaigns, but it also blurred the line between independent 527 political groups and non-profit social welfare groups, which are classified with the designation 501(c)(4). These social welfare groups can also apply for tax-exempt status from the IRS, a designation that used to be the strict privilege of groups that didn’t engage in political speech. But since Citizens United, it’s much more challenging to determine which social welfare groups are dealing in predominantly political speech.
So the IRS is faced with the unenviable challenge of filtering out groups that are stepping over the line and flagrantly abusing the social welfare moniker.
Now, yes, I get it. The IRS staffers shouldn’t have used exclusively right-wing search terms to weed through the applications. They should’ve broadened the criteria to include terms across the political spectrum. But without the conservative, pro-Republican movie created by the infamous Citizens United group in 2008, not to mention the conservative, Republican-affiliated Supreme Court deciding in its favor, we might not be talking about this right now. Furthermore, the Republican-created deficit and the subsequent histrionic demand for austerity led to government cut-backs, including at the IRS where, within the Exempt Organizations Division, the staff has been significantly reduced, thus increasing workloads. Toss into the mix a considerable rise in tax exempt applications and there it is: a formula for negligence. Thanks, Republicans.
On to the AP scandal.
Right off the bat, it might surprise you to learn that it was a cabal of 31 Republican senators who demanded the investigation that eventually led to the subpoena of the AP’s phone records. So there’s that.
In a broader sense, however, I can’t help but to laugh whenever I hear a Republican scream about government overreach on national security and civil liberties. For eight years, the Republicans established an infrastructure under the banner of fighting evildoers at home and abroad — an infrastructure that included a wide variety of trespasses against civil liberties.
They seized phone records from reporters without subpoenas, they spied on liberal groups, they established the usage of body scanners and heightened security measures at airports, they loudly and in some cases tearfully demanded the ability to wiretap American citizens without warrants, they passed the USA PATRIOT Act and ultimately created the modern American surveillance state. The Bush era gave us this counter-terrorism Frankenstein, and now they’re suddenly alarmed about it.
But now that they’re not longer in charge, they melodramatically collapse onto their group fainting couch every time the Justice Department or the president ventures into the same territory — or, ironically enough, whenever the president doesn’t do enough along those lines. Whatever the Obama administration does, they’re against it. And so it is with the AP phone records situation. Once again, as with the IRS scandal, the cries for investigations and even impeachment are loud and plentiful.
For example, Bush’s former attorney general Michael Mukasey described the AP phone records situation by saying, “It’s reprehensible conduct.” This is the same attorney general who took over a Justice Department that had seized phone records from four journalists — without subpoenas — without even flinching. Mukasey was also directly involved with warrantless wiretapping of Americans citizens. And when it appeared as if Congress might pass legislation preventing this egregious activity from continuing, Mukasey literally burst into tears during a speech in which he demanded the power to continue the eavesdropping program or else there would surely be another 9/11. I’m not making that up.
It’s not a stretch to suggest that the post-9/11 fear-mongering and massively exaggerated counter-terrorism hysteria manufactured an atmosphere of capitulation and resignation to flagrant government overreach and violations of privacy and personal dignity.
And who’s to blame for the fear-mongering? People like Matt Drudge, of course, who aided in the effort to scare the crapola out of us about the so-called “terrorist threat” and yet ran a screamer headline on his front page in which he cleverly conflated the AP story with wiretapping: “GOVT TAPS PRESS PHONE RECORDS FOR MONTHS.”
But during the Bush years, Drudge, along with Rush Limbaugh, Fox News Channel and the highest ranking Republican officials in Congress, demanded that all of Washington buy into the notion that you can’t have a Constitution if you’re dead. How do we know this? Well, because they actually said it. Over and over. A few examples for the record:
“You have no civil liberties if you are dead.” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
“Over 3,000 Americans have no civil rights because they are no longer with us.” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
“None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)
“Our civil liberties are worthless if we are dead! If you are dead and pushing up daisies, if you’re sucking dirt inside a casket, do you know what your civil liberties are worth? Zilch, zero, nada.” Rush Limbaugh
Now, years later, these very same Republicans insist that “Big Sis” (Drudge’s nickname for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano) and the “little black man-child” are forcing us to “grab the ankles” and submit to fascist authoritarian policies. Never mind that all of these policies were invented by Republicans and ballyhooed by Drudge in an atmosphere of manufactured fear during conservative control of, well, everything.
Throughout the duration of the Bush years, any and all opponents of these policies were shouted down as being with the terrorists — undermining American security and endangering the troops, while evildoers were lurking under our beds ready to spring forth and crash airplanes into everything. In those years, patriotism was defined by the speed and vigor by which we gave up our civil liberties in lieu of a lot of extra security. This mantra was defined, branded and codified by the Republican Party.
The post-9/11 maxim “either you’re with us, or you are with the terrorists” wasn’t the concoction of Michael Moore or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Janet Napolitano. It was entirely the purview of the Drudge-ruled authoritarian universe of fear and cowardice. And make no mistake: cowardice is precisely what it was — cry-baby cowardice masked by flag-waving machismo in support of a military-industrial-security complex that earned billions in profits on investments ranging from the invasion and occupation of Iraq to the production and deployment of body scanners. Rather than standing firm and upholding American values, the far-right embraced cowardice and set us on a course that’s become so deeply embedded into our political culture that it’s going to take many more years to unravel.
So as you observe the coming months and years of brain-melting scandal coverage surrounding these topics, blame a Republican. It’s okay. They deserve it.