Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
They Said It:
The strength or weakness of a society depends more on the level of its spiritual life than on its level of industrialization. Neither a market economy nor even general abundance constitutes the crowning achievement of human life. If a nation’s spiritual energies have been exhausted, it will not be saved from collapse by the most perfect government structure or by an industrial development: a tree with a rotten core cannot stand. This is so because of all the possible freedoms the one that will inevitably come to the fore will be the freedom to be unscrupulous; that is the freedom that can be neither prevented nor anticipated by any law. It is an unfortunate fact that a pure social atmosphere cannot be legislated into being.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “Our Own Democracy,” National Review, September 23, 1991.
CHARACTER, WHERE ART THOU? SURELY NOT IN WASHINGTON.
There are a great many issues we would like to address this week, but which we will have to shelve for the time being in order to focus on Washington’s current obsessions du jour. We’d like to write about immigration, for example. Or the Boston terrorists. Or even, believe it or not, John Maynard Keynes and his impact on the entirety of Western Civilization. Instead, we have no choice. The big story this week, needless to say, is Benghazi. Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.
Our reluctance to dive into this cesspool stems, in large part, from a very narrow distinction in definitions. For us, the key to the Benghazi debacle is the distinction between an “important” scandal and a “relevant” scandal. As silly and as inconsequential as it may seem, the two are different, and, with Benghazi at least, the differences matter.
An “important” scandal is one that is of great consequence. And given this definition, Benghazi was important. Four Americans died. And their government not only lied to the American people about the cause of their deaths, it had failed to provide them with sufficient protection from harm, and refused to do everything within its power to safe them when they were threatened.
Worse yet, all of this – the lies, the failure to provide security, and the refusal to attempt to save their lives – was perpetrated in pursuit of specific political ends. The President’s re-election was too important to let something as small and meaningless as four American lives get in the way. The failures of Benghazi are amplified greatly by the fact that they occurred in the pursuit not of strategic ends, but of crass electoral political goals.
We believe – and think that any thinking person should agree – that the Benghazi mission was important. The men who died on that mission were important. The lessons to be learned about the sickness endemic among our political class are important. All of which is to say that the scandal now unfolding is important as well.
That is not, however, to say that the scandal is necessarily relevant. A relevant scandal is one that could have some serious and perhaps long-term consequences for those involved; an indignity so severe that its impact could conceivably outlive the current news cycle, particularly among non-partisan voters.
We’d like very much to believe that Benghazi is such a scandal and that those whose actions or inactions cost four Americans their lives will be dealt a form of rough political justice. But we don’t believe that. We don’t think, in the end that this scandal will persist or will affect careers the way it should.
As long-time readers well know, this is not our first rodeo. We’ve covered Washington scandals closely for the better part of two decades now. And given our experience – which is to say our cynicism about the ruling class – we just don’t see how this scandal will reverberate over time. Much as we hate to say it.
As we understand it, there are three components to the insistence that this scandal is not just important but relevant as well. The first of these is the assertion that the wrong-doing associated with this scandal is so egregious that public rage will not only manifest itself at long last, but will extend up to the highest levels of the administration. This is, of course, the latest iteration of the old “the cover-up is worse than the crime” theory. According to some, including the former Governor of Arkansas and former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, this “cover-up” and the anger it engenders will lead eventually to the premature end of the Obama administration. As Politico tells the story:
Mike Huckabee on Monday predicted that President Barack Obama won’t finish out his second term in light of the “cover-up” of the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the former Arkansas governor called the affair “more serious than Watergate.”
“I believe that before it’s all over, this president will not fill out his full term. I know that puts me on a limb,” the former Arkansas governor said on “The Mike Huckabee Show.” “But this is not minor. It wasn’t minor when Richard Nixon lied to the American people and worked with those in his administration to cover-up what really happened in Watergate. But, I remind you — as bad as Watergate was, because it broke the trust between the president and the people, no one died. This is more serious because four Americans did in fact die.”
Now, we know that ol’ Huck is desperate to drum up viewers for his Fox News show; and we know as well that he is desperate to make himself politically relevant again. But this is just nuts. The Republicans are not going to impeach Barack Obama over the Benghazi, at least not unless there is a great deal about this scandal that no one yet knows. There was undoubtedly a cover-up here, but it’s unlikely to cause a majority of the ruling class to demand the expulsion of a twice-elected president.
The second component of the “this will be relevant” argument is that all of the bad news over the last couple of weeks seems to be leading inescapably to the conclusion that Benghazi was Hillary Rodham Clinton’s screw-up. Hillary, we are told, is in deep doo-doo. Her reputation will be conclusively tarred. And given this, she will NOT be the 45th President of these here United States. To this end, the alleged Republican political genius Karl Rove and his American Crossroads group have launched a web-ad that specifically targets Miss Hillary. Newsweek/The Daily Beast report as follows:
The days of Hillary as Republicans’ favorite member of the Obama cabinet are over. This dynamic was unlikely to the point of absurdity—a case of political amnesia brought on by a combination of her voting record in the Senate and the ’08 campaign-era conviction that the enemy of my enemy is my friend . . .
Briskly laying out the sequence of the Benghazi attacks, the ad then cites the “2 a.m. phone call” to the then–secretary of State from Gregory Hicks, the deputy station chief in Libya, who testified in Congress last week that he described the attacks as they were occurring as “terrorism.” It is no accident that the “2 a.m. call” neatly recalls the Clinton campaign’s famous 2008 3 a.m. phone-call attack ad directed at Barack Obama.
The Rove ad never mentions President Obama by name and only shows him briefly beside Hillary Clinton at Andrews Air Force Base days after the attacks, when the bodies of Ambassador Stevens and his aides arrived back in the United States . . .
But in Rove’s video, the culprit is not Obama administration policy, but Clinton. The unceremonious demotion of Hicks after the attack is used as evidence—the latest patriotic, middle-aged white man whose career was sacrificed on the altar of her ambition.
We hate to say that Karl Rove is wasting his time and money (again!), but he’s wasting his time and money (again!). Does anyone – anyone serious that is – think that this scandal, of all things, is going to bring down Hillary Rodham Clinton or eliminate her as a major player in the Democratic party? If they do, they have a long-term memory problem. As we wrote last week, Hillary Clinton will not be the next President. But that has nothing to do with the Benghazi scandal – or any scandal for that matter.
For those who may not remember, the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also the former Senator Hillary Clinton and the former First Lady Hillary Clinton, which is to say that this isn’t her first rodeo either. Indeed, she’s been riding the circuit for so long that she may have stepped in and dished out more BS than anyone else in Washington.
This, you may recall, is the same woman who saved her husband’s political career and his run at the presidency by lying on CBS’s “60 Minutes” about Gennifer Flowers and Bill’s long-term affair with her. This, you may recall, is the same woman who brought her Rose Law Firm cronies to Washington, only to see them disgrace themselves and their country in a variety of ways. This, you may recall, is the same woman who engineered the firing and smearing of Billy Dale, the head of the White House travel office, who was accused but never convicted of embezzlement and who was replaced in the White House by World Wide Travel, a Little Rock group with ties to Bill and Hill. This, you may recall, is the same woman who denied under oath that she ever worked on the Castle Grande real estate project and claimed that she didn’t know where to find the billing records that could corroborate her story, only to see those records show up later in the White House family reading room with her own finger prints on them and containing details showing that she did, in fact, bill Madison Guarantee (the project developer) for more than 30 hours of work over four months. This, you may recall, is the same woman who allegedly okayed the hiring Craig Livingstone, an unqualified former bouncer, as the head of the White House office of personnel security, a position he used to obtain illegally several hundred FBI files on assorted Republicans and other political opponents. This, you may recall, is the same woman who purportedly turned a $1,000 investment in cattle futures contracts into a $100,000 profit in 10 months, simply by reading the Wall Street Journal. This, you may recall, is the same woman who publicly blamed her husband’s affair with a 22-year-old intern on a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” This, you may recall, is the same woman who ran for a Senate seat in a state in which she had never lived, establishing residence by buying a house she couldn’t afford which was financed by one of the Democratic Party’s most prominent and most questionable political fundraisers, who just so happens to be the current Democratic nominee for Governor in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This, you may recall, is the same woman whose brother Tony used her to gain access to the President and to secure a pardon for his bank-fraudster friends. Etc., etc., ad nauseam.
In short, then, and as we’ve noted here before, this is a woman who couldn’t and wouldn’t be hired by any mid-size or larger company in the country because of worries about her “moral fiber.” Yet she is nonetheless still qualified to be a Senator and the Secretary of State and who is still beloved by millions, including more than two-thirds of voters who give her favorable ratings. Hillary Rodham Clinton has wiggled out of many worse and tighter spots than this one. And anyone who thinks that it will be different this time is operating more on hope than sense. It won’t be different this time. Why, on God’s green earth, should anyone expect it to be?
The third component of the case for Benghazi’s relevance is one that centers on the notion of character – character in government and the character of the American people who choose their government. The mistakes that were or were not made with respect to the attack on Benghazi, this argument goes, are not nearly as important as the people who made the crucial decisions and what those decisions say about them, their character, and about the state of the nation more broadly. The inimitable Mark Steyn made such a case this past weekend:
Shortly before last November’s election I took part in a Fox News documentary on Benghazi, whose other participants included the former governor of New Hampshire John Sununu. Making chit-chat while the camera crew were setting up, Governor Sununu said to me that in his view Benghazi mattered because it was “a question of character.” That’s correct. On a question of foreign policy or counterterrorism strategy, men of good faith can make the wrong decisions. But a failure of character corrodes the integrity of the state.
That’s why career diplomat Gregory Hicks’s testimony was so damning — not so much for the new facts as for what those facts revealed about the leaders of this republic . . .
The dying Los Angeles Times reported this story on its homepage (as a sidebar to “Thirteen Great Tacos in Southern California”) under the following headline: “Partisan Politics Dominates House Benghazi Hearing.” In fact, everyone in this story is a Democrat or a career civil servant. Chris Stevens was the poster boy for Obama’s view of the Arab Spring; he agreed with the president on everything that mattered. The only difference is that he wasn’t in Vegas but out there on the front line, where Obama’s delusions meet reality. Stevens believed in those illusions enough to die for them. One cannot say the same about the hollow men and women in Washington who sent him out there unprotected, declined to lift a finger when he came under attack, and in the final indignity subordinated his sacrifice to their political needs by lying over his corpse. Where’s the “partisan politics”? Obama, Clinton, Panetta, Clapper, Rice, and the rest did this to one of their own. And fawning court eunuchs, like the ranking Democrat at the hearings, Elijah Cummings, must surely know that, if they needed, they’d do it to them, too. If you believe in politics über alles, it’s impressive, in the same way that Hillary’s cocksure dismissal — “What difference, at this point, does it make?” — is impressive.
But the embassy security chief, Eric Nordstrom, had the best answer to that: It matters because “the truth matters” — not least to the Libyan president, who ever since has held the U.S. government in utter contempt. Truth matters, and character matters. For the American people to accept the Obama-Clinton lie is to be complicit in it.
Regular readers undoubtedly know that we like Mark Steyn and that we generally believe he provides unique and powerful insights on the American political scene. That said, we’re a little baffled by this assertion here. Character? What, pray tell, is that? What does that matter? The overwhelming majority of the most influential people in the country today have the character of a wharf rat. And more to the point, didn’t the American people already express their feelings on this question nearly two decades ago? And didn’t they do so with assent of both political parties? We sure thought they did. At least we wrote about it, way back when, when a man named William Jefferson Clinton was running for re-election. In a piece titled “Character, Where Art Thou,” and dated October 16, 1996, we put it this way:
The big political question in the news last week was whether character issues are a legitimate topic for public debate during presidential campaigns. On one level, we found the exercise amusing, since the public discussion about whether or not such issues should be publicly discussed involved much public discussion about allegations that Bill is a philanderer, has engaged in questionable business transactions, has used hard drugs, and has abused presidential power to obstruct justice. . . .
One of the most interesting aspects of the discussion last week was, we thought, that very few of Clinton’s defenders defended him against the allegations. Most chose instead to argue about whether they were pertinent to presidential politics. With supporters like this, Bill doesn’t need detractors.
In another sense, we found the debate disgusting and disheartening. If the honesty and integrity of a presidential candidate isn’t a legitimate subject for campaign discussion, then what, pray tell, is? And what, pray tell, is happening to this country if there is any doubt about it?
We noted in [a previous] piece that until relatively recently it was generally believed and understood that the federal government’s primary responsibility is to protect the nation from foreign enemies, and to create and ensure an environment that is safe and just and within which each citizen can realize his or her full potential as a human being.
The government, according to this viewpoint, is expected to fulfill its side of the so-called “social contract,” as outlined by John Locke, in his Second Treatise of Government, and adopted by Thomas Jefferson for American use in the Declaration of Independence. The idea behind this unwritten contract is that citizens give up certain alienable rights in exchange for the government’s protection of their inalienable ones, or as Jefferson spelt it, unalienable ones. These, as the Declaration declares, include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In any case, so long as most Americans believed that a contract existed between the people and their government, most felt it was important that the individual representing the government’s side in the contract be a man of honor.
Slowly but surely, this restricted view of Washington’s proper role has given way to a more “progressive” one. Today, a very large number of Americans are totally oblivious to the role of government as envisioned by the founding fathers. They expect Washington not to simply provide an environment in which they can pursue their own happiness, but to actually provide happiness for them. . . .
If American democracy is to survive this period intact, we believe Americans will need to better understand the dire threat that corruption presents to their way of life. For this reason, I think it is incumbent on the nation’s political leaders to be on the alert for corruption and to scream bloody murder when they see it manifested.
Thus, we were particularly upset by Jack Kemp’s assertion last week in the debate with Al Gore that he too apparently thinks that character is not particularly important. Kemp sanctimoniously maintained that he believes it would be “beneath” both him and Bob Dole “to go after anyone personally;” thus implying that anyone who does so is himself or herself most probably, unlike Kemp himself, a person of diminished character.
We’re sure this made Kemp feel like he was a real swell guy. And we’re sure it made a lot of Democrats like him. But we think it’s hogwash. We think it’s nuts. . . .
By deliberately scoffing at the importance of character, honor, honesty, courage, morality and ethical behavior, and by maintaining that economic issues are the only important ones, Kemp reinforces the rampant materialism that is, we believe, in large part responsible for the decay that is rotting away at the foundations of American society.
Of course, less than a month after that piece was published, the American people re-elected Bill Clinton by a comfortable margin. During his second term, of course, it was revealed that he carried on an affair with a White House intern only slightly older than his daughter, that he lied about the affair to the American people, and that he lied about the affair to a federal grand jury while under oath. Nevertheless, Bill Clinton left office on January 20, 2001 as one of the most popular presidents in recent memory. He remains so today.
Bill’s wife, of course, was elected to the Senate by the people of New York and was later appointed . . . whoops! . . . sorry! We’re repeating ourselves here, aren’t we? What part of the story are we writing? Is this the second or the third part of the case for Benghazi’s relevance?
In any case, we suspect you get the point.
The American people do not care about the character of their elected officials. If you don’t believe us, you can just ask the residents of South Carolina’s 1st Congressional district, who, last week, in a special election, overwhelmingly elected Mark Sanford to Congress. Sanford, of course, is the former Republican governor of the state who wandered off for a few days several years ago and then later claimed that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. He was, in truth, in Argentina “hiking” with his mistress. Sanford was not endorsed by the Republican Party apparatus in his run for Congress, but was endorsed by Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, who said that Sanford represents the values that matter most to the Hustler crowd. Score one for Flynt.
We don’t mean to rain on everyone’s parade here. We really don’t. It’s just that we have so little faith in this country’s political class that we don’t expect them to hold any one of their own accountable for any imaginable disgrace. We know we’re in the minority on this one. Over the weekend, Joseph Curl, a former White House reporter and the current editor of The Drudge Report warned of one potential witness in particular who could bring the whole administration down. To wit:
With the White House putting all blame on the [Central Intelligence] agency, expect push back this week — nuclear push back. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former director forced to resign after a sex scandal, is a dangerous man to the Obama administration. Mad and intent on getting even, he’s already talking, telling one reporter the talking points were “useless” and that he preferred not to use them at all. The floodgates will open this week, and by the end of business Friday, the scandal will be full blown.
Maybe – just maybe – Curl is right. Still, from our perspective, if you’re counting on a guy who got drummed out of the CIA because he cheated on his wife of more than 35 years with his biographer to restore the credibility, honor, and “character” of the American government, then perhaps there are some holes in your plan.
The American people had an opportunity to choose character over bread and circuses some 17 years ago. They chose poorly. Sadly, they did so with the help of the Republican running mate. To expect them to change their minds and alter that decision now is, we’re afraid, probably too much to ask.
THE IRS, THE TEA PARTY, AND THE ADMINISTRATIVE STATE.
Of all the things said and written in the wake of the revelations last week that the Obama administration’s Internal Revenue Service “targeted” conservative groups, there were two that stood out for their mischaracterization and misunderstanding of the situation. Both were based on a notion of bureaucratic professionalism and conduct that, by and large, no longer exists, at least in the public realm. And to that same end, both put us in mind of the incomparable Max Weber, whose description of bureaucratic management is still the benchmark by which all other bureaucratic types are judged, yet appears more and more to be inadequate to the formation of any general observations about bureaucracies in the contemporary administrative state.
The first such statement was uttered by none other than George Will, likely the best known and most respected conservative thinker in the nation today. In his usual weekly appearance on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Will expressed his skepticism at the idea that political appointees in the administration and even the President himself were unaware of the harassment of conservative groups seeking 501(c)4 status. Specifically, he said:
This was a jaw-dropping moment. In response to a question at American Bar Association convention, a second-level IRS person said, ‘Oh by the way, we did target these people.’ . . .
The Tea Party people have known about this and were working on this. But they [the IRS] said — it was just some odd underlings out in Cincinnati who did this and there was no political motive whatever involved. Now the question is, how stupid do they think we are? Just imagine, Donna Brazile, if the George W. Bush administration had an IRS underling, he’s out in Cincinnati, of course, saying we’re going to target groups with the word ‘progressive’ in their title. We’d have all hell breaking loose.”
Will’s comments, naturally, reflect ideology or partisanship first and foremost. He presumes the worst about Barack Obama in this case because he is inclined to think the worst of Barack Obama in most cases. Obama is, for all intents, Will’s political opposite. It is only natural that he would expect Obama to have behaved badly.
At the same time, Will’s statement reflects an ingrained and perhaps subconscious (or unconscious) belief in the inviolability of bureaucratic professionalism. Or to put it another way, Will simply can’t seem wrap his head around the idea that a government agency would deviate so transparently from its mission without explicit instruction from above. The reason this is so – the reason that Will believes in the virtue of the bureaucratic apparatus – is largely because of the influence of Weber.
Among other things, Weber noted that the “ideal type” bureaucracy operates on hierarchical principles, which is to say that there is a coordinated scheme by which authority flows in a downward direction, from superior to subordinate, with subordinates never exceeding their own domain or negating the authority of their superiors. Additionally, according to Weber, bureaucracies operate in strict adherence to written rules and procedures, the violation of which is inconceivable. Or, as Weber himself put it:
The principles of office hierarchy and of levels of graded authority mean a firmly ordered system of super- and subordination in which there is a supervision of the lower offices by the higher ones. Such a system offers the governed the possibility of appealing the decision of a lower office to its higher authority, in a definitely regulated manner. With the full development of the bureaucratic type, the office hierarchy is monocratically organized. The principle of hierarchical office authority is found in all bureaucratic structures: in state and ecclesiastical structures as well as in large party organizations and private enterprises. It does not matter for the character of bureaucracy whether its authority is called ‘private’ or ‘public.’ . . .
The management of the modern office is based upon written documents (‘the files’), which are preserved in their original or draught form. There is, therefore, a staff of subaltern officials and scribes of all sorts. The body of officials actively engaged in a ‘public’ office, along with the respective apparatus of material implements and the files, make up a ‘bureau.’ In private enterprise, ‘the bureau’ is often called ‘the office.’ . . .
The management of the office follows general rules, which are more or less stable, more or less exhaustive, and which can be learned.
The second comment that we thought mischaracterized the IRS-Tea Party mess and therefore may have contributed to a miscalculation of its importance was written by Jon Healey, an opinion writer for and member of the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times. Healey wrote the following:
The government’s efforts to keep taxpayers from indirectly subsidizing political campaigns affect more than just this relatively new class of nonprofits. They also discourage charities from immersing themselves in civic life and churches from leading their flocks – although come to think of it, the rules against politicking from the pulpit haven’t been much of a deterrent. Still, it’s worth remembering that the IRS investigated a Pasadena church and the NAACP during President George W. Bush’s term for allegedly violating the speech strictures on tax-exempt groups. So the shoe’s been on both the left and the right foot.
In our estimation, this statement is both more misguided and more pernicious than Will’s. Notably, Healey engages in a little false-equivalency here, claiming that the IRS investigations during the Bush presidency were somehow equivalent to the current IRS “targeting.” They were not.
The IRS investigated both the Pasadena church and the NAACP for specific statements deemed political in nature and explicitly directed at a political officeholder – in this case President Bush. The investigations were both regulated by existing rules (i.e. longstanding written procedures) and were limited in scope. They were also perfectly legitimate under law and under IRS rules.
The targeting of conservative groups, by contrast, was ongoing, was subjective, was based not on specific comments, but on general principles, and, most important, was, by the IRS’s own admission, “wrongful.” Healey clearly has an agenda here, namely to conflate, in the minds of his readers, Bush IRS and the Obama IRS, thereby minimizing the perceived wrongdoing on the part of a Democratic administration.
Beyond that, though, Healey’s conclusion, like Will’s, seems to reflect a deep-rooted and perhaps subliminal acceptance of Weber’s ideal type. Healey presumes, as Weber would instruct him, that bureaucracies respond to the will of their masters, which is to say that a professional and impartial bureaucracy can be controlled and manipulated by anyone who happens to be in a hierarchical position of authority and happens to understand the bureaucratic process. Again, as Weber himself put it:
The objective indispensability of the once-existing apparatus, with its peculiar, ‘impersonal’ character, means that the mechanism-in contrast to feudal orders based upon personal piety – is easily made to work for anybody who knows how to gain control over it. A rationally ordered system of officials continues to function smoothly after the enemy has occupied the area; he merely needs to change the top officials. This body of officials continues to operate because it is to the vital interest of everyone concerned, including above all the enemy.
During the course of his long years in power, Bismarck brought his ministerial colleagues into unconditional bureaucratic dependence by eliminating all independent statesmen. Upon his retirement, he saw to his surprise that they continued to manage their offices unconcerned and undismayed, as if he had not been the master mind and creator of these creatures, but rather as if some single figure had been exchanged for some other figure in the bureaucratic machine.
Now, the problem with both statements here – Will’s and Healey’s – is that they presume a certain level of professional bureaucratic decorum that simply does not exist today – if it ever did. As we have related over and over in these pages, Weber’s ideal type, is incredibly valuable and insightful, but it is also a limited depiction of bureaucracy and fails in particular to account for the severity and frequency of bureaucratic failings. Weber was a sociologist, and his description of bureaucracy is, understandably, purely sociological. That’s all well and good, of course. But it limits the value of the ideal type in understanding contemporary bureaucratic phenomena.
The political aspects of bureaucratic dysfunction, as described by Theodore Lowi, and the economic model of bureaucratic dysfunction, as developed by William Niskanen, both serve as strong antidotes to the naïveté of Weber’s purely sociological approach. Between the two of them, they explain how bureaucracies are often influenced by interest group demands, by legislative abdication, and by budgetary concerns far more than they are by the specific limited objectives of the organization. To put it another way, not all bureaucrats are as professional and as cvonstrained by organizational structure as Weber presumed. Some bureaucrats are slaves to politics, while others are slaves to budget-maximization. And in both cases, the end result is far from Weber’s ideal. Indeed, it far more closely approximates “Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy,” formulated (naturally) by the author and social commentator Jerry Pournelle. It reads as follows:
[I]n any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.
What all of this means in a general sense is that contemporary bureaucracy is, in some critical ways, far removed from what most people – and certainly most people schooled in bureaucratic and organizational theory – think of as standard bureaucratic practice. The form remains much the same as Weber described it, but the spirit is influenced by factors far more pedestrian and far less virtuous than Weber presumed.
What this means in the specific case of the American federal bureaucracy and the IRS in particular, is that it is unlikely that either Will or Healey is correct in his assessment of this scandal. It is, in our opinion, unlikely that the IRS-Tea Party scandal reaches into the upper ranks of the Obama administration. At the same time, it is even more unlikely that this is a phenomenon that could, in theory or in practice, plague the Right as well as the Left.
Contemporary bureaucracy is, in many ways, precisely as von Mises described it: a Leftist entity dedicated to the expansion of the state. It is populated by Leftists who believe in the value and the necessity of big government. These ideologue-cogs need no instruction to expand government power as much as possible. To this end, we think it is telling that, among other things, the IRS tagged for further scrutiny any group that described itself as dedicated to “smaller government.” The idea that anyone would be surprised by this is silly. Of course, the IRS is leery of groups that want smaller government. Smaller government means smaller bureaucracies, including the IRS. What’s to know?
We hate to be the party-poopers for second time today, but we just don’t see how any of this will, over the long-run, damage President Obama personally. It is, in our opinion and by contrast to George Will’s opinion, unlikely that this “scandal” reaches beyond the agency level. It may reach higher than a few unnamed, low-level patsies in Cincinnati, but it almost certainly does not reach beyond the IRS and into the White House. There is no point in pretending that this is equivalent to Nixon’s “enemies list.” Nor is there any point in citing the impeachment charges against Nixon, as Will did this weekend, noting that one of the charges focused on abuse of executive power, specifically with respect to the IRS. Barring any unexpected revelations, this will, we believe, prove to be a mighty disappointing political scandal.
Of course, that’s not to say that there is no scandal at all here. There most definitely IS a scandal. It is real, and it serious. It will almost certainly cause several people to lose their jobs. And rightly so. In the end, though, it appears to us that this scandal is one borne of bureaucratic dysfunction, not of political machination.
The real scandal is that in 2013, IRS bureaucrats don’t need to be told to carry out the Leftist President’s wishes, that they know them already and share his objectives. The nature of the bureaucracy in the administrative state is noxious. Moreover, it is parasitical. As Pournelle’s law suggests – and as Lowi, Niskanen and countless others confirm – bureaucracy now exists in large part to expand the power of the bureaucracy, which is to say the power of the state. The type of political harassment experienced by right-leaning (and Jewish) groups at the hands of IRS bureaucrats probably occurs far more frequently than we know. It is also likely far more pervasive than we could possibly imagine, transpiring in every federal, state, and local agency in the country. Such is life in the bureaucratic state.
The upside for those of us who wish to see President Obama’s political agenda stymied is that this scandal, coupled with Benghazi, makes such an outcome more likely. Obama will spend the next several weeks fighting off accusations. Congress will spend the next several months conducting investigations. And in the end, both sides will spend countless hours discussing, researching, writing, and promoting “reform” legislation designed to prevent similar abuses of power in the future. This reform will fail to do anything of the sort of course, given the nature of the bureaucratic beast, but at least it will give the ruling class something to occupy its time.
Better toothless IRS reform than further intrusion into the lives of the people, we say.