Monday, May 20, 2013

Aiming For That Sweet Spot

He should know better than this- but, hey, this is Marco Rubio, whose parents were or were not (option B is the correct answer) refugees from Castro's Cuba, and there is a presidential nomination to secure.  On Friday, the Senator of Sleaze told Fox News

Look, the president doesn’t have clean hands in this, because as I said yesterday on the floor of the Senate, this organization of his, this administration has created a culture of intimidation. It's his campaign, it's this White House, it’s basically an attempt to muscle anyone who is their political opponent and to use whatever power they have at their disposal to intimidate people that they don’t agree with.

There are few people who know any better than Rubio that this Administration doesn't "use whatever power they have at their disposal to intimidate people that they don't agree with."   On or before Sunday, March 12 the Senator wrote Treasury Secretary Jack Lew "I strongly urge that you and President Obama demand the IRS Commissioner’s resignation, effectively immediately. No government agency that has behaved in such a manner can possibly instill any faith and respect from the American public."

A few days later, the President who applies the full force of the federal government to intimidate his political opponents referred to the IRS "misconduct" as "inexcusable," declared "Americans have a right to be angry about it," and announced he had accepted the resignation of the guy in charge of the agency, much as demanded by Rubio.

Only of course Steven Miller, whose resignation had been requested by Obama appointee Lew with (undoubtedly) the President's approval, wasn't the IRS commissioner.  He was the acting IRS commissioner, appointed to replace Commissioner Douglas Shulman, a Bush appointee under whom the vast majority of the misconduct had taken place.   But Rubio is planning a run at the GOP's presidential nomination, and facts are optional.

Rubio's letter to the Treasury Secretary was cunningly deceptive.  He claimed

Recent revelations about the Internal Revenue Service’s selective and deliberate targeting of conservative organizations are outrageous and seriously concerning. This years-long abuse of government power is an assault on the free speech rights of all Americans.

But a claim of "selective and deliberate targeting of conservative organizations" is a selective and deliberate claim.   Bloomberg News reports that at least three Democratic groups were examined, none of the GOP groups had its application rejected, and the review of applications went well beyond Tea Party groups.

Admittedly, though, more applications from conservative groups than from liberal groups were reviewed, in part because conservative organizations were more prone to submit them, though they actually are not required for tax-exempt status.  But Noam Scheiber explains the primary reason why it might seem that right-wing groups were targeted:

Yes, the IRS employees in Cincinnati, looking for shortcuts to process the wave of applications, used conservative-themed catchwords to filter for groups that were perhaps too election-focused to merit 501(c)(4) status. But there is a plausible explanation for this: Most of the campaign-minded applications they were getting were conservative! This is a credit to the tea party movement, which for a while was generating levels of grassroots activism that the left could only envy. Why did the IRS not screen for “corporate greed” or “plutocracy” or “inequality”? Well, maybe because those words would have netted precious few applications to scrutinize.1

Not to mention that the applications from tea party groups demanded special attention for another reason: These groups were proudly political! Even if you take at face value the movement’s initial claim to be something all its own, something more than just the conservative wing of the Republican Party, its whole purpose from the get-go was to orient American politics and government toward its constitutional roots by intervening in elections at all levels, starting with Republican Party primaries. The tea party groups’ whole mission called their suitability for 501(c)(4) status into question.

But while Rubio might have complained about the IRS singling out tea party groups, he chose instead to refer to "targeting of conservative organizations." As the Floridian no doubt has noticed, the "Tea Party," a quixotic and unpredictable movement, is at times the object of scorn of the mainstream media while its astroturf funders, and conservative forces generally, are protected by that same media.    And, perhaps not surprisingly, the IRS did the same, for as Scheiber notes

The biggest problem with the Cincinnati office’s extra scrutiny of the groups was not that it was not justified, or not even that it would lead to predictable wails of manufactured outrage once it came out.2 It’s that it was a poor use of limited resources. At the same time it was sending long questionnaires to groups like a tea party outfit in Waco, the IRS was doing precious little to rein in the groups that were making a true mockery of the law on 501(c)(4)’s—outfits like Crossroads GPS, the organization co-founded by Karl Rove that spent $71 million last year. This spending was undeniably geared toward influencing the 2012 election but, unlike regular super PACs such as its sister group American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS was not required to disclose the source of the funds. All told, the 501(c)(4)’s spent $254 million in last year’s election, nearly three times what they spent in 2010. And yes, most of this spending was on behalf of the Republican side.

Which is to say that even as many small-fry conservative groups that were floating across the 501(c)(4) line found themselves getting hassled with time-consuming queries from Cincinnati, the great white sharks of the right floated on by, untouched. Now, Washington has flown into one of its predictable, oh-so-gratifying uproars about the clumsy attempts to regulate the little guys—Marco Rubio demands the head of the IRS (unfortunately, there isn't one), President Obama declares himself outraged, and the Beltway scorekeepers wonder if this outrage is sufficiently outrage-y. ("The question being asked in the political world today is whether [President Obama's] condemnations are too little, too late," declares one pundit.) Meanwhile, the odds that anything will be done to deal with the big guys—by, say, defining “insubstantial” investment in election activity to mean something far less than 49.999 percent—dwindle further, making the mockery of our laws a permanent condition. That is the real scandal.

No doubt you're shocked! shocked! that the GOP and President Obama (pardon the redundancy) are little concerned that the likes of Crossroads GPS, Priorities USA, and Americans for Prosperity go about their political and partisan business unscathed.  The same traditional media, which generally has been favorable (with many, many exceptions) to candidate and President Obama, now is aghast at IRS misconduct.  

As a leading Repub, Marco Rubio will exploit the anger of the party's popular base toward the media by criticizing it periodically on the road to 2016.   An early favorite of the tea party movement, he now is vulnerable with the GOP electorate for his support of comprehensive immigration reform.  Consequently, he currently is running advertisements on Rush Limbaugh's program (and perhaps other right-wing shows) defending the concept on conservative grounds.

Rubio plans to remain popular- or at least acceptable- with the far right while he plays the tune of the corporate media and reinforces his status as its Golden Boy.  He will keep the "Tea Party" at arms length while maintaining a staunch conservative record, popular with Republicans of all types.  While hewing to conservative myths accepted as conventional wisdom, he will play the tune of a media which simultaneously welcomes ethnic minorities and defends the interests of the 1% against the public and organized labor.

When Marco Rubio claims President Obama "doesn't have clean hands" in the IRS debacle and denounces the agency loathed by most, and feared by many, Republicans, he protects the corporate foundation of the Republican Party and gives us a valuable glimpse into his playbook.

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