Monday, May 20, 2013

Obama Is No Nixon

Obama Is Not Nixon:
"The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know,"
said Harry Truman, who made it his task to absorb a lot of it. Many
people who have not followed his example are not averse to using
what little they do know, with the inadvertent effect of exposing
how much they have to learn.
In recent days, those people have triumphantly likened Barack
Obama to Richard Nixon, particularly on the misuse of the Internal
Revenue Service for political advantage. In 1974, the House
Judiciary Committee voted to impeach Nixon because, among other
reasons, he tried to cause "income tax audits or other income tax
investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory
This, of course, is exactly what the IRS now admits doing when
it singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny. The
Treasury Department's Inspector General found, "The IRS used
inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and
other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their
names or policy positions."
The misconduct happened under the current president. Therefore,
Obama = Nixon.
But equating the two is like concluding that babies are like
poisonous snakes because some of them have rattles. Maybe
information will someday emerge to confirm the conservative
suspicion that Obama thuggishly subverted the IRS to win
re-election, but so far, it falls in the realm of make-believe.
Here is what the 44th president had to say about how the agency
should operate: "Americans have a right to be angry about it, and
I'm angry about it. It should not matter what political stripe
you're from. The fact of the matter is the IRS has to operate with
absolute integrity." Obama said this as he announced the dismissal
of the acting commissioner for failing to prevent political
Here is what the 37th president had to say about how the agency
should operate: "Are we looking over the financial contributors to
the Democratic National Committee? Are we running their income tax
returns? ... We have all this power and we aren't using it. Now,
what the Christ is the matter?"
Nixon did not have a fetish for maximizing revenue. The point, a
memo from the White House counsel helpfully explained, was to "use
the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies." On
multiple occasions, at the behest of the president or his top
aides, the IRS was told to audit individuals whose activities
created dissatisfaction in the Oval Office.
The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Lawrence
O'Brien, got special attention. One of Nixon's top aides called the
commissioner of the IRS and demanded action, hoping to "send him to
jail before the elections." Nixon ordered investigations of
Democrats who might run against him.
Obama's complaint is that the IRS engaged in unfair treatment of
groups that oppose him. Nixon's was that it was reluctant to engage
in unfair treatment of those that opposed him.
In 1971, weary of improper pressure, Commissioner Randolph
Thrower asked for a meeting with the president to advise him that
"the introduction of political influence into the IRS would be very
damaging to him and his administration, as well as to the revenue
system and the general public interest." Nixon refused to see
When another commissioner closed down a unit that was used for
political retribution, the president tried repeatedly to fire him
-- while griping profanely in private that he, as The New York
Times paraphrased, "was prissy about legal procedures."
Not that revenge was Nixon's sole mission. "If harassment of
'enemies' was half the White House strategy, the other half was
succor for friends," wrote New York Times reporter J. Anthony Lukas
in his book "Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years." When
evangelist Billy Graham and actor John Wayne got audit notices, the
president demanded that the IRS back off.
In Nixon's mind, using tax agents as political operatives was
not only excusable but exemplary. In the case of Obama, there is no
evidence that he or his Treasury Secretary was aware of the
mistreatment of conservative groups -- much less that either of
them requested it.
Many of his critics nevertheless claim to detect in him a
ruthless mendacity unseen in the White House since 1974. The result
of this distortion is to highlight not how much Obama resembles
Nixon, but how much they do.