Bad government!

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Bad government!

Questions surrounding the spate of scandals now enveloping the White House have largely focused on what they tell us about the nature of the Obama administration. That is, is the administration guilty of mere incompetence or out-and-out corruption?

It’s a fine and appropriate question to ask. But to focus on it and it alone runs the risk of missing the most important lesson from these episodes.

In recent days, I’ve heard several observers say that the confluence of these scandals calls to mind the famous words of Lord Acton regarding the corrupting influence of power. Agreed. But that maxim, sage as it is, is a tad too abstract in this case.

Allow me instead to offer a recent comment from David Axelrod, President Obama’s longtime political advisor, who unwittingly (I assume) nailed the problem right on its head. Asked in particular about the IRS scandal — in which the nation’s tax-collecting agency brought enhanced scrutiny and, in some cases, outright harassment to bear upon conservative applicants for non-profit organizational status — Axelrod said this: “Part of being president is, there’s so much underneath you that you can’t know, because the government’s so vast.”

Well … yeah.

It was a pretty amazing moment, really. In one simple sentence, Axelrod managed to offer both a sincere defense of the president, and an incisive indictment of the ideology the president works to advance.

Think about it. Even under the most generous explanation for these scandals, what we have here is the chief executive of the federal government, as well as other top officials, having absolutely no idea what was going on throughout the government they run. The White House, the IRS, the DOJ — they claim everyone was utterly clueless as to what everyone else was doing. And again, that’s their best spin on these scandals.

But let’s be perfectly clear: The issue here runs much deeper than the competence level of a single presidential administration. What we’ve been treated to in the past few days is a compelling case — made by Axelrod in word and by the Obama administration in deed — for limited government. After all, since these kinds of abuses are simply natural outgrowths of having such a “vast” government, the only rational response is to make sure that government shrinks. The alternative — to simply live with the abuse — is unacceptable.

That is the real lesson here. And while I don’t expect Obama or Axelrod to learn it, I’m growing concerned that some who should, won’t.

As many others have already pointed out, one of the more frightening elements of the IRS scandal is the considerable set of new powers the agency is poised to receive under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Under Obamacare, the IRS, as the health-care law’s enforcement agency, will be even more involved in citizens’ lives than it is already — and in some of the most intimate and personal parts.

Among those concerned about this is Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming. “These are the folks that are supposed to enforce the health care law,” the senator remarked at a press conference. “I can’t imagine the American people are going to be delighted with the misuse of power we’ve seen from the IRS and wanting to entrust them with their health care.”

Nor should they be. But the takeaway from this should not just be that the IRS is unfit to enforce PPACA, true as that may be. It’s that the government is unfit to be involved in health care — or any of the other myriad facets of our lives in which it has become inappropriately entrenched. The former line of thinking suggests we can cure the problem simply by reassigning the IRS’ Obamacare responsibilities to another federal agency. But if the IRS isn’t above abusing its power for partisan political purposes, why on Earth should we assume better of any other group of Washington bureaucrats?

Big government leads, naturally and necessarily, to abusive government.

Let’s hope the events of the past few days will serve to remind an all-too-complacent citizenry of that fact.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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