This whole IRS controversy seems much ado about nothing. The IRS is generally interested in looking at political nonprofit organizations because regardless of their political stripes, they ought to be paying taxes. Most of these groups aren’t working for the public good; they are pushing their own agenda. And as Matt Yglesias is fond of saying: that’s great! But it isn’t something that we should be subsidizing with tax exempt status. Inside this effort, a small group looked at organizations with names that included “tea party” or similar. And then the head of the division found out about it and put a stop to it. One would think that would be the end of it.
But before I go on with the story, let’s think for a moment about the idea that a group with “tea party” in its title is conservative. As I’ve argued, the Tea Party doesn’t really exist; it is just the base of the Republican Party. But the people who consider themselves members of the Tea Party have long argued that this isn’t the case. Why, they’re not even conservative. They have Democrats and Republicans. So how can an IRS investigation of groups with “tea party” in their names be an attack on conservatives? I welcome this controversy if it means we can finally all admit that the Tea Party is nothing but the conservative base of the Republican Party.
Now that Benghazi seems at last to be fading to the “fake moon landing” status it so richly deserves, the conservatives are grabbing hold of an actual controversy: IRS targeting of conservative groups. Marco Rubio wants blood. He wants the head of the IRS Commissioner. But as Jonathan Chait noted this morning, there is no commissioner. When this program was going on, the IRS was being run by Donald Shulman, a Bush appointee. But his term ended last November, and since then, the acting head has been Steven Miller. (Obama has yet to nominate a new commissioner; this is typical of him and it is almost as big a problem as the Republicans filibustering every nominee.)
So what exactly is Rubio doing? He wants to register his outrage. But this whole thing ended almost two years ago. As I said: much ado about nothing. But one of the few things that Republican politicians do is appear on conservative media to shout about how horrible things are. Calling for the resignation of nonexistent bureaucrats is an important part of their job descriptions. And even when they do happen to latch on to a real controversy, it doesn’t mean their reaction will stay inside the reality based world. I’m sure that we will hear some conservatives calling for the abolition of the IRS because of this. Of course, there are always conservatives calling for the abolition of the IRS. If Rubio thinks he can be at the head of the pack with calling for a resignation of a nonexistent person, he’s seriously underestimated the craziness of his party.