Grover Norquist was not kidding when he said “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” His intentions became quite clear later on when he made his equally infamous pledge an oath of faith for conservatives.
But Norquist’s nightmarish vision may now be becoming a political reality. As Noam Scheiber writes in his disturbing post, “Hunger Games The conservative plan to starve government has paid off with the IRS scandal” at The New Republic.
The more we learn about the IRS vetting of conservative groups, the less it looks like an abuse of power than something much more mundane–a beleaguered agency with too few resources to handle its work-load…As The New York Times reported this past weekend, the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups was chronically understaffed and overwhelmed even before a surge in applications from political groups in 2010. Once the dodgy applications started piling up (dodgy because political groups that don’t reveal their donors aren’t supposed to get tax exemptions), it’s not surprising that the IRS cut corners, adopting search terms like “patriot” to help flag the conservative groups who were largely behind the increase. This was insensitive and inexcusable–a real crime against political correctness. But it was the kind of mistake people make when they’re overworked, not on a witch hunt.
However, explains Scheiber,
…The scheming is on the right and not the left. Since the Republican House takeover in 2010, conservatives have laid the groundwork for a cynical two-step: First, squeeze funding for government programs, making it harder for civil servants to do their jobs. Then, when the inevitable screw-up comes, use it as further justification for cuts. Against this backdrop, the IRS scandal looks like only the latest step in the conservative long-game.
Scheiber adds that the same tactics have been leveraged to undercut the Affordable Care Act, and the enforcement powers of the FEC and CFTC, and weaken government by drastic cuts in discretionary spending. As Scheiber says, “the GOP’s entire budget strategy for the last two-and-a-half years only really makes sense as an effort to discredit government…The budget strains prevented the agency from staffing up appropriately across the board, increasing the chances of a major snafu somewhere in its vast organization chart.”
Worse, adds Scheiber:
The just and logical result of this chain of events would be to discredit the people intent on starving government. Instead, the scandal has become a convenient talking point for opponents of government itself. The IRS uproar “probably represents the last shovelful of dirt on the central mission of Barack Obama’s presidency: rehabilitating Big Government’s reputation as a necessary first step toward a new Progressive Era,” wrote the economics commentator James Pethokoukis in National Review. More alarmingly, mainstream pundits are echoing this conclusion. “The IRS flap eats away at the underpinnings of what President Barack Obama promised when he first ran in 2008,” wrote the centrist columnist Jerry Seib the following week. “A revival of confidence that government is capable of solving problems in a smart and nonideological manner.”
I’m afraid Seib is right. As it’s currently playing out, the scandal probably is sapping confidence in government. But how we got to this point is no accident. It was the plan all along.
What the GOP could not completely achieve with gerrymandering and voter suppression, they are accomplishing through legislative obstruction and paralysis — rendering government incapable of functioning effectively. Whether they can hoodwink enough voters into agreeing with them remains to be seen. What voters must decide on November 4, 2014 is whether government is inherently evil and incompetent — or is it just the Republicans in congress.