IRS scandal: Reinvigorated tea party eager to seize moment (+video)
With the Justice Department investigating whether IRS employees criminally misused their power by targeting conservative groups, tea party leaders see the scandal as a teaching tool about what tyranny looks like.
Americans who snickered at the tea party movement’s warnings about the slow creep of tyranny may have paused this week after the IRS apologized for inappropriately giving special scrutiny to conservative groups.Skip to next paragraph
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“I told you so,” says Larry Nordvig, whose organization, the Richmond Tea Party, complained for two years about over-the-top scrutiny by the IRS. “It’s time to put the monster back in its cage.”
Attorney General Eric Holder has begun a probe into whether IRS employees criminally misused their power by unfairly targeting so-called “constitutional conservative” groups, and President Obama has called the practice “inexcusable.”
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At the same time, the circumstances have breathed new life into the tea party, whose national support had dropped from 41 to 21 percent since 2011. The scandal has presented the movement in a largely sympathetic light, raising serious questions about the “tyranny” of Big Government and firing up a national debate about what The Boston Globe termed the “core principles” of a democracy.
More broadly, the IRS backlash also presents a unique moment, tea party activists say, to revive the brand and renew their current goals of educating Americans about the Constitution while working for a conservative majority in the Senate in order to defeat Obamacare.
“This is galvanizing; we’re sharpening our spears,” says Ron Hei, a tea party activist in Alabama whose organization has not sought tax-exempt status.
Most immediately, some groups targeted by the IRS have threatened to sue, and congressional testimony starting Friday is bound to raise the personal and political stakes for those involved, as well as keep the story on the evening news.
But the broader question tea party activists are asking is why groups arguing against Big Government were then targeted by said Big Government. The question of whether the IRS’s behavior constituted political bullying or not, activists say, could form the basis for a broader revival of the tea party’s antitax ideals, especially if the scandal can be used to raise more questions about the nature of Democratic leadership in Washington.
The IRS has denied that the special scrutiny was politically motivated. The problem, according to an Inspector General report issued Tuesday, is that groups espousing progressive causes were not targeted in the same way, creating at least the appearance of political motivation or direction.