Whether one thinks the demiscandals being howled about in Washington should or should not resonate more widely, they don’t. According to a Gallup report released Thursday, “The amount of attention Americans are paying to the I.R.S. and the Benghazi situations is well below the average for news stories Gallup has tracked over the years.” (The Associated Press phone records case wasn’t mentioned.) Why might this be? I have a few theories:
People know that the Internal Revenue Service is the conservatives’ boogeyman. It’s the agency that collects the taxes that Republicans hate so much. Some Americans see taxes as, at worst, a necessary nuisance; Republicans see them as an absolute evil. The IRS is the agency that collects the wealth from “us” for the government to redistribute to “them.” As National Journal pointed out Friday, “The agency also implements much of the country’s social policy through the tax code.” We all know that anything with “social” in its name activates the conservative gag reflex.
And on the Associated Press front, it just doesn’t ring true to have Republicans standing up as defenders of the “lame-stream media.” It’s like the person with the club feigning common cause with the baby seal. People just don’t buy it.
Furthermore, Republicans have exhibited a near-pathological need to say anything, no matter how outlandish, that would invalidate the Obama presidency. This has left them with little credibility now that there may be legitimate problems. This is the story of the political party that cried “Kenyan.”
Where is Benghazi? Seriously, folks, quickly point it out on a map. Thought so. Now, to the controversy: the talking points — what they said, and the machination of how that was altered, and whether al-Qaida should have been immediately blamed, and whether the word “terror” should have had an “-ist” or an “-ism.” Seeking to find the killers of four dead Americans is honorable; endless testimony about a fussed-over script used to explain the tragedy is mind-numbing.
It is clear that the Justice Department overreached on the Associated Press scandal and that its strong-arm tactics are likely to have a chilling effect. But Americans are not big fans of mass media.
A November Gallup poll found that only a fourth of Americans rate the honesty and ethical standards of journalists highly. Even bankers ranked higher. As for Tea Party groups that received extra scrutiny from the IRS, an Associated Press-GfK poll released last month found that fewer than a fourth of Americans say they support the group. The Tea Party may well be passe. The policy issue is a different story, as The Washington Post pointed out this week: “In 2010, the Supreme Court’s landmark `Citizens United’ decision cleared the way for corporations and labor unions to raise and spend unlimited sums of money, and register for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4).” That decision was extremely unpopular. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released nearly a month after the decision was handed down found that 80 percent of Americans opposed it.
So an unpopular movement applied for tax-exempt status under conditions made possible by an unpopular court decision, in order to influence politics with unfathomable amounts of money from unnamed donors? Good luck gaining sympathy for that.
The Congressional Tea Party Caucus founder, Michele Bachmann, who never misses a chance to say something asinine, suggested to the conservative site wnd.com that it was “reasonable” to worry that the IRS might use Obamacare to kill conservatives.
The article reads, in part:
“Since the I.R.S. also is the chief enforcer of Obamacare requirements, she asked whether the I.R.S.’ admission means it `will deny or delay access to health care’ for conservatives. At this point, she said, that `is a reasonable question to ask.”’
“Reasonable” and “Bachmann” don’t even belong in the same conversation, let alone the same sentence, and yet she remains one of the most visible spokeswomen for the movement. Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warned Republicans against overreaching. In an NPR interview that aired Friday, Gingrich, referring to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, said, “I think we overreached in ‘98 — how’s that for a quote you can use?”
He continued, advising his party to be “calm and factual.” Ha! That’s too rich, and too late. Republicans are already invoking the I-word.
Republicans are their own worst enemies at times like these, unable to leave well enough alone, and missing chances to honestly engage the public as they race off the cliff in the supercharged outrage machine.
— The New York Times News Service