By Tom Blumer | Special to Ohio Watchdog
Was President Barack Obama preparing the nation for the recent series of scandals when he spoke May 5 during graduation ceremonies at The Ohio State University?
Included in Obama’s speech was a remark which, in hindsight, seems oddly prescient:
Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.
Obama’s admonition to “reject these voices” warning of tyranny directly contradicts a famous statement made by Ronald Reagan several times during his long career as a commentator and politician: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
Many people, perhaps including the president, either forget or haven’t learned that one of the definitions of “tyranny” — in fact, the first one listed at Dictionary.com — doesn’t require a pervasively oppressive government as a precondition for its existence. Instead, “tyranny” is defined as “arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power; despotic abuse of authority.”
In that sense, it been shown beyond doubt during the past several days that Obama’s own administration has carried out tyrannical activities unprecedented in the 237-year history of the American experiment to which he referred.
The nexus of one of them was just 110 miles down Interstate 71 from where Obama spoke. In Cincinnati, Internal Revenue Service employees conducted a concerted campaign to harass and intimidate groups they apparently believed might, referring back to the president’s words at OSU, “gum up the works.”
On Friday, Lois Lerner, director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations office, speaking at an American Bar Association conference, delivered what was originally thought to be an unprompted apology. She admitted that “our line people in Cincinnati” who processed organizations’ applications for tax-exempt status flagged applications with “names like Tea Party or Patriots” for additional review and scrutiny, a process she called “centralization.”
Lerner further acknowledged that her division had “sent some letters out that were far too broad, asking questions of these organizations that weren’t really necessary for the type of application. In some cases you probably read that they asked for contributor names.”
She concluded by saying that “we at the IRS should apologize … it was not intentional … and I don’t expect that to reoccur.”
It soon became obvious that the director’s limp apology was prompted by an impending report from the Treasury Department’s Inspector General which, based on leaked information reported thus far, shreds her claims that the targeting of specific groups was limited to “line people” and that it was “not intentional.”
The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the IG’s probe, when released, would show that the scope of the IRS targeting went far beyond organizations’ names to include “sweeping criteria” such as indications that the groups were “worried about government spending, debt or taxes,” or wished “to make America great again.” Additionally, “a high-ranking IRS official knew as early as mid-2011 that conservative groups were being inappropriately targeted.” It has since been reported elsewhere that the IRS also subjected Jewish organizations to overreaching review “to determine whether the organization’s activities contradict the administration’s public policies.”
That overreach was far more extreme than Lerner admitted, and seems to have been designed to tie up as much of applicant organizations’ time and resources as possible to distract them from their core activities. In one instance, according to a top official in Ohio’s tea party movement, the agency, upon learning that one group had a book club, “demanded that they tell them every book their book club read and provide a book report on each book.” The fact that one of the group’s leaders defiantly “sent them the actual books and told them to read them themselves” doesn’t negate the chilling nature of the IRS’s demand. Lawyers representing these groups have said publicly that some of them simply folded rather than wage what promised to be a protracted battle. If the IRS’s goal was to make sure that Obama’s philosophical opponents wouldn’t “gum up the works,” it was at least partially accomplished.
The second example of tyranny involves the media.
The Department of Justice on Friday informed the Associated Press that it had, as described in related AP coverage, “secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors … in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a ‘massive and unprecedented intrusion’ into how news organizations gather the news.”
The Washington Post reported Monday evening that “the scope of the records secretly seized from the AP and its reporters goes beyond the known scale of previous leak probes,” and included “cellular, office and home telephone records of individual reporters and an editor; AP general office numbers in Washington, New York and Hartford, Conn.; and the main number for AP reporters covering Congress.”
Obama’s advice to OSU grads to dismiss warnings of tyranny just a few days ahead of the disclosure of two textbook examples of its application is enough to make one wonder if he was trying to conduct a preemptive rhetorical strike ahead of bad news he and his cohorts already saw coming. Given his more recent denials that he knew anything about either situation, one fervently hopes that chastened progressives who were justifiably outraged by Richard Nixon’s far more limited abuse of the IRS during the 1970s, along with journalists who have just seen how their peers’ privacy was violated on a massive scale, will be among those trying to figure that out.