The IRS. Good? Bad? Necessary?
I guess it’s easy for people to make a broad claim that I support big government because I’m unabashedly liberal, and therefore I generally support government assistance on many fronts. And I guess that I myself am guilty of defining conservatives as anti-tax, anti-government hate-mongers who care nothing for the poor and are only looking out for themselves, their guns, and their money. But the truth is that neither of these characterizations is fair.
I think the disconnect comes about when we define government as one, major monolithic institution. It isn’t. Government is as varied and diverse as the “private sector”, which is also often presented as having one definition and one goal. It doesn’t.
The IRS targeting conservative organizations that were seeking tax-exempt status was wrong. And while I most likely disagree with these organizations and their goals, I certainly don’t think it adds to democracy to have an institution within our government choosing winners and losers based upon political factors (to be a little fair to the IRS, many of the institutions filing for the tax-exempt status would not or should not have qualified – this includes many liberal organizations). So the IRS was wrong in this instance, but can we then turn around and say that since the IRS is part of “government”, then FEMA is wrong also, and so is HHS, and so is DHS, and so is the FDA. Where does it end? ALL government programs and institutions can’t be bad, can they? It’s ludicrous. The IRS isn’t even bad, there were just people within the institution that were doing the wrong thing.
We’re quick in this country to look for easy fixes and broad impacts. A government institution or program does something wrong – GET RID OF IT. But wait, wasn’t it performing some useful functions? Doesn’t matter, it messed up, so off with its head. That’s taxpayer money at work, and if it messes up its accountable to the taxpayers. Okay, fair enough. But what about all of the good services it provides – do those not account for anything against the mistake(s) it made? This is where conservatives and liberals seem to have the largest differential in opinion. Whereas liberals would say that the good outweighs the bad, and that there will always be government waste, but it’s a byproduct of the positive functions; conservatives are more apt to cut off the head of the individual, rather than treat the wound.
When there is waste in the private sector, we imagine that “the market” will work it out. That’s capitalism, right? WRONG. Government contracts, subsidies, tax breaks, even laws specifically written to benefit corporations. These are all examples of “government” propping up the “private sector”, because these companies no longer operated effectively or efficiently. And while it’s easy to turn this around and say that it is government that is at fault in this scenario (and part of the blame does lie with legislators), it is important to recognize that the same big business conservatives that are pimping the idea of the free market are the ones taking the government handouts. It is hypocrisy, and worse than that, it takes money away from government programs that help those in need to prop up businesses that are inefficient, ineffective, and unnecessary.
I had a discussion with a conservative friend of mine a while back in which he said that he didn’t like paying taxes because he felt that the money was being spent on things he didn’t agree with. I stood there for a second trying to get into his head. Not really understanding how an intelligent person could be so dense. I said plainly, “That’s a democracy. How do you think I feel? I’m sure I disagree with many of the things government spends money on that you agree with.” He just shrugged it off, but I think the point was noted in his psyche, because it’s a true point that no one wants to face up to. Yes, of course we all want our government to represent our individual ideological perspective, but I’d rather live in a country where I didn’t get what I want, but the process was fair, rather than live in country where a dictator happened to support my views. FOR THE RECORD – this is an oversimplification, because we don’t, in fact, live in a democracy, and unfortunately our government is more reactive to interest group and moneyed individual pressure than to that of the majority of citizens.
Sorry, you can scratch this whole post if you want, it’s rather disjointed.