Updated: June 22, 2013 6:19AM
Whatever else comes out of the controversies engulfing Washington, one thing is clear: They confirm conservative warnings that big government naturally grows ever more meddlesome and threatening in the lives of its citizens.
Whatever turns out to be the original impulse in the Internal Revenue Service scandal, the fundamental point is that IRS bureaucrats have immense power to disrupt lives with intrusive audits based on political directives. For all the rationalizations that an occasional liberal outfit got audited, the incontestable fact is that a be-on-the-lookout order went out for conservatives — organizations with words like “Tea Party” and “patriot” in their names or words like “Constitution,” “Bill of Rights” and “making America a better place” in their mission statements. That brought greater IRS scrutiny on the these organizations, their leaders, and their businesses and personal affairs.
Another rationale is that the scandal sprang from a Supreme Court ruling expanding the free-speech rights of unions and corporations. Think about that: The IRS is invested with determining how much political speech a group is allowed before it loses its tax-exempt status. Isn’t that the definition of all-power government and its latent power of intimidation?
Freedom of conscience and the right to associate are fundamental, protected American values and the IRS, whether in targeting conservative groups or in enforcing a
4 million-word tax code, breached both. Vast power invested in a government agency and its bureaucrats is bound to be abused. The response to this scandal must include, beyond investigations of how it happened, a simpler tax code and the resulting smaller IRS and more modest reach of government in manipulating our lives and economy through tax edicts.
However meritorious the hunt for leakers of national security information may be, the Justice Department, from what we know now, over-reached in secretly seizing phone records of the Associated Press. The AP did not publish its story about a foiled terrorist attack last year until the Obama administration said the threat to national security had passed and revealed that it itself intended to announce the success of its anti-terrorism effort.
The latest development is a report that in 2010 Justice not only obtained phone records and emails of a Fox News journalist but also tracked his movements through security badge records in investigating the leak of classified information about North Korea.
The Obama administration has had more leak investigations than all previous administrations. As AP President Gary Pruitt put it, the “unconstitutional” Justice action against his agency tells whistle-blowers “that if you talk to the press, we’re going to go after you.”
These are among the biggest scandals occurring on the watch of President Barack Obama. But there are other abuses. Last week, a second federal appeals court found Obama had violated the Constitution in bypassing the Senate to use the recess appointment power to pack the National Labor Relations Board with union advocates. The NLRB thumbed its nose at the first ruling and went about its unconstitutional business.
Obama advocates activist, big government. Now Americans see the ugly side of scorning the nation’s tradition of limited government. James Madison, the key framer of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, observed: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”