"This is the defining moment to say `I told you so,' " said Katrina Pierson, a leader of a Tea Party corporation branch in Dallas.
Actually, this isn’t a defining moment of “I told you so” – the Tea Party corporation complaints have been largely about taxes being too high and condemnation of affordable health care, more than anything, not telling us that we shouldn’t like the IRS. I have a pretty good sense that few people like the IRS. (My pal Mark Evanier writes often that his father worked for the IRS and even he didn’t like it.)
More to the point, there have been a lot of articles and news stories about how the Tea Party corporations are going to use this IRS controversy to stir its anger and build its base for the next elections, targeting anyone who supported President Obama.
My first reaction when I started seeing this stories was annoyance and even a touch of wariness – but then I realized that we have no reason to believe that the disparate “Tea Party” branches wouldn’t have been coming out in full forced and “outraged” any more than they were intending to in the next election. They’ve always been outraged at any one who voted for Mr. Obama. And they’re only voting in the GOP primaries, not Democratic ones, so it’s Republican candidates who are the ones who have to be wary of challenges from the Tea Party corporations – something they’re already wary of. In any general election, the “Tea Party” will be outraged as always, absolutely, but they’re only voting Republican, so it’s not like Democrats will lose any votes to them. Yes, this will “energize” them, but I’m not sure if there will be much impact of that, from what would have occurred otherwise. And they remain a small fringe.
In fact, being a small fringe is one of their additional problems if they go on too much of a rampage over an issue that polls are showing the public isn’t nearly as concerned about, particularly when it comes to the president.
"Never underestimate the tea party's ability to overplay its hand," Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee told the AP. “Just because there is universal agreement that the IRS went too far, that should not be misread as acceptance of the tea party's ideology of anger.”
That the Tea Party corporations are outraged is not only the basic core of their being, so it’s not particularly news, but they have to convince others in the middle to be just as outraged. And that’s a problem because –
1) The IRS has every right to look into any group applying for tax exempt status.
2) During the same period, the IRS actually looked into liberal groups, too, applying for tax exempt status, not just conservative groups.
3) Not one “Tea Party” group was denied tax exempt status.
4) During the same period, a liberal group was denied status.
5) The President of the United States forced the resignation of the acting-chairman of the IRS.
6) The IRS chairman at the time of the abuses was not the man fired, but in fact an appointee of George W. Bush. So that’s where Tea Party corporations should direct their outrage.
7) The foundation of the “Tea Party” – unlike other tax exempt groups – is actually corporate, not the social welfare, with Freedomworks having been funded by the Koch Brothers for their financial interests, and Tea Party Express created by Richard Armey. So, they are understandably more susceptible to skepticism, and open to being questioned.
8) The IRS code Section 501(c)(4) states specifically that to qualify for tax exempt status, groups must be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” The word is “exclusively,” not "primarily." And “social welfare” is in there, too, not corporate interests. So, with the “Tea Party’s” foundation and history, they are understandably even more susceptible to skepticism, and open to being questioned.
9) The IRS has a long history of abusing its powers towards liberal groups, more notably (and most recently) the NAACP. So, it’s not like the far right has any exclusivity to their concerns. Indeed, they are johnny-come-lately’s.
That said, the point here isn’t to suggest that the situation isn't serious. It is serious. The point though is that all these “scandals,” while definitely valid problems, are SO deeply out of proportion with what is being outraged over. My sense isn't that the far right isn't actually outraged over the IRS issues (since, as noted above, are hardly at that level), but rather they're looking desperately, as always, for something to be outraged about.
The good thing is that apparently none of these are having any impact on the public perception of Obama. The bad thing is that they’re all intended to clog up the legislative pipes. And also tarnish Hilary Clinton. But then, if it wasn't this, they'd find something else. They've been doing it for five years.
That brings us back to what Mo Elleithee said: "Never underestimate the tea party's ability to overplay its hand." If you keep trying to pour outrage on someone that others believe is unfair -- and polls suggest that's the case -- then that can backfire on you and create sympathy. Witness how Bill Clinton's poll numbers skyrocketed after he was impeached.
The Tea Party corporation has every reason to be upset at the actions of the IRS. But then, everyone has reason to be upset at it. And everyone has always had reason to be upset at it all the times it's happened in the past, most often to liberals.
But outrage by those Eternally Outraged -- over something problematic, but not outrageous -- should not be taken as a surprise. But rather business as usual. And the risk for those who carry it too far is that it can likely come back to haunt you.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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