Yes, this is Watergate, the remake

Yes, this is Watergate, the remake

Lois LernerPoor, misguided Lois Lerner, the Internal Revenue Service’s director of exempt organizations. She thinks she’s done nothing wrong, even though she oversaw the IRS effort that unfairly targeted conservative groups applying for tax exempt status. She made this claim before a House committee, passionately stating her innocence of wrongdoing not once, but twice. That was before she went mute, pleading the Fifth—lest any elaboration on her non-wrongdoing incriminate her. 

Does she realize she’s become her parents? Oh, not her specific parents. I mean some in her parent’s generation, the Nixon ones. Besieged on all sides—war protestors in the streets, liberal media aligned against him, Congress in the hands of Democrats—Nixon and his supporters must have felt that the republic was falling apart and only aggressive action would save it. In other words, they probably thought they were doing good by covering up the break-in of DNC headquarters at the Watergate hotel, trying hard to keep it and other scandalous behavior quiet until at least after the election. They succeeded to a degree. Nixon was reelected—and then forced to resign two years later when the scandal was fully revealed.

Consider today’s president before the 2012 election: protestors in the streets, strong conservative media outlets (Fox News, talk radio, bloggers) with commentators successfully revealing staffers’ controversial pasts leading to resignations, a growing movement against his signature health care program, and midterm elections that suggested his adversaries were winning the hearts and minds of voters. What to do? Well, to save the republic, one would do anything, right? Just ask Nixon.

To Lerner and her defenders, such an analogy must shock. But here’s what I’ve always found shocking—how so many liberals assume that while they wake up in the morning donning their white hats determined to do good, their policy adversaries wake up ready to twirl their Snidely Whiplash mustaches before racing out to do evil. Thus, in liberal eyes, opponents of gay marriage become bigots, proponents of Voter ID laws are racists, and lower-tax advocates are greedy SOBs who hate the poor.

Many liberals I encounter can’t seem to understand that, just as they want to do good, so do conservatives and Republicans. You lose sight of that and you become…Nixon operatives or Lois Lerner, convinced that your side is so good it can justify singling out the other side for special treatment, “special” being a euphemism for harassment. If it saves the republic, it must be good, eh?

In reality, Lerner and her cronies didn’t save the republic. That will be left to those who uncover all of the IRS and other scandals, punishing wrongdoers and revealing to the country this simple truth: you can’t use government power to gain or stay in power. Unfortunately, to some degree—whether unwittingly or not—the IRS was complicit in the use of power to hold on to power. Here’s why:

By harassing conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, they gave an unfair advantage to liberal groups who sailed through the process. This didn’t wipe conservative groups from the public square by any means, but it did give a stamp of approval to liberal ones while denying it to their conservative colleagues. More important, however, was withholding news of this scandal until after the election.

First, for context, here’s a recap of the numbers of the 2012 election with some comparisons to 2008:

President Barack Obama won the 2012 election with 65,899,660 votes, or 51.06 percent of the vote, to Mitt Romney’s 60,932,152  votes, or 47.21 percent. Romney pulled in more votes than his Republican predecessor in 2008, both in actual vote counts and percentages. And the president didn’t inspire his supporters to get out and overwhelmingly select him the way he had in ’08 when he pulled in 69,498,516  votes, or 52.93 percent of the vote, to   Sen. John McCain’s  59,948,323 votes, or 45.65 percent.

If you followed the fawning coverage of the president over the past years, you might think he won in a landslide. No, the country was divided on whether to keep him or fire him. If Romney had upped his vote count in several key swing states where the margin was within five percent—Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado—“Hail to the Chief” would have been playing for the first Mormon president in the country’s history.

What could have swung those votes? Oh, maybe breaking news that indicated all those tea party groups that the media and liberal elites had derided were actually right—big government could be bad government, really bad. Maybe the news that the big government agency tasked with implementing major elements of the Affordable Care Act couldn’t be trusted to treat all citizens fairly.

I think most reasonable people would agree that this story could have had a profound effect on the narrative of the campaign. Instead of discussing Mitt Romney’s tax status, we might have been focused instead on how the IRS handled the tax status of ordinary citizens.

Just as the truth behind the Watergate break-in was known but hidden by Nixon operatives, so, too was the truth about the IRS scandal hidden until after the election. Ms. Lerner and her pals might have saved something by withholding this important information until recently, but it wasn’t the republic.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Her latest book, After the War, is available in print and digitally.

Libby Sternberg

Libby Sternberg

Libby Sternberg is an Edgar-nominated novelist whose works include humorous women’s fiction, young adult fiction, and historical fiction. Her political writings have appeared at Hot Air, the Weekly Standard, Insight, the Wall Street Journal, and Christian Science Monitor.


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