Sen. Chuck Schumer's endorsement of President Obama's use of the IRS to target and harass Tea Party, conservative and evangelical nonprofits is further evidence that many contemporary liberals are comfortable using government power to squelch political opponents. They are even willing to steamroll one of America's most cherished rights -- freedom of speech -- to thwart people with views contrary to their own. Speaking to the Center for American Progress last week, Schumer decried the Tea Party's influence on House Republicans and declared that “there are many things that can be done administratively by the IRS and other government agencies -- we must redouble those efforts immediately.”
By “redouble,” does Schumer mean expand the IRS efforts beyond the more than 200 groups already targeted and harassed? The tax agency possesses a rich trove of tools with which it can make life miserable for those expressing unapproved views. So, does he have in mind censoring what can be said or published by these groups? Or is the New York senator thinking more along the lines of seizing assets from individuals associated with the proscribed groups? Might he be planning on introducing a Tea Party tax to be collected by the IRS?
Even more important, which “other government agencies” does Schumer have in mind? The FBI? The Pentagon? The National Security Agency? Since they don't handle tax matters, what exactly would Schumer have those other federal agencies do to the Tea Party groups? Whatever the specifics might be, Talking Points Memo, a well-sourced and influential liberal blog, described Schumer's plan as being intended to “crush” the Tea Party. Schumer's defenders will say "crush" was meant metaphorically, but there was nothing metaphorical about how the IRS abused its power against the Tea Party during the 2010 and 2012 campaigns.
Schumer’s comments should spark some serious reflection among journalists as well. It’s not coincidental that the people who have no qualms about siccing federal agencies on political opponents also have no qualms about using the government to harass and intimidate the news media. As Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, recently noted, "The Obama administration has had seven criminal leak investigations. That is more than twice the number of any previous administration in our history. It's on a scale never seen before [emphasis added]. This is the most secretive White House that, at least as a journalist, I have ever dealt with."
It’s difficult to think of two entities that are less alike than the liberal mainstream media and the Tea Party. Members of the former reside mainly in the affluent precincts of the Northeast and Pacific Coast, and the latter mostly attracts salt-of-the-earth types in the American heartland. The one thing they share, however, is a capacity for upsetting the best-laid plans of ambitious politicians, either by voting against them or by reporting facts that undermine official spin. That threatens the Barack Obamas and Chuck Schumers of American politics. Maybe it’s time the journalists and activists recognize their common jeopardy.