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Happy President’s Day (*)

I had a visceral dislike for George W. Bush, going back to when he was Governor of Texas. I think he was a bad president. I even think that if all the votes were fairly counted, he might have even lost to Al Gore. But Bush was certified by the Congress as elected, and he was the president. For good or ill, he will forever be listed as the 43rd president of the United States.

Opponents of Barack Obama, however, went one step further. They didn’t even want him to be a candidate for president, and filed lawsuits to prevent it. Once elected, they continued to litigate and to deny that he was eligible, and to this day work to erase his presidency, to place an asterisk next to his name in the history books as not actually being the president. Some refer to Obama as the “putative president” or “the pResident.”

A May 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal1 by James Taranto titled “President Asterisk” is not quite the birther denialist story, but I think it runs parallel. The subject was the IRS use of certain keywords like “tea party” to trigger special scrutiny of groups applying for 501(c)(4) social welfare organization tax exempt status. Taranto writes:

No one can deny that Lance Armstrong and Mark McGwire were highly skilled athletes. But their accomplishments are forever tainted by their use of banned performance-enhancing drugs. The use of the Internal Revenue Service’s coercive power to suppress dissent against Obama is the political equivalent of steroids. The history books should record Obama’s re-election with an asterisk to indicate that it was achieved with the help of illicit means.

At best this is a gross exaggeration. Hundreds of millions of dollars went into anti-Obama Super PACs in the 2012 election. Organizations that the IRS didn’t approve in a timely fashion were still free to raise and spend money – IRS pre-approval is not necessary. Nothing was “suppressed.” Obama won in an electoral landslide and I cannot imagine any legitimate argument that IRS actions made a wit of difference.

Personally, the whole targeting business didn’t bother me. A 501(c)(4) social welfare organization has to promise that their primary activity isn’t political, and an organization named “Tea Party” claiming not to be primarily political ought to raise a red flag!

Orly Taitz picked up some recent news on this theme in her latest troll for plaintiffs in the title,

BREAKING: 100% of the 501(c)(4) Groups Audited by IRS Were Conservative. If you are a conservative and your equal protection rights were violated by IRS and Obama regime and you want to be a part of a class action legal action to originate in CA, contact Attorney Orly Taitz, and send a short paragraph with specifics of discrimination

I wondered if it was true. Taitz didn’t provide any source, as usual, but I found that the charge comes from Republican House Ways and Means Chairman David Camp  who said on February 11 of this year:

At Washington, DC’s direction, dozens of groups operating as 501(c)(4)s were flagged for IRS surveillance, including monitoring of the groups’ activities, websites and any other publicly available information. Of these groups, 83% were right-leaning. And of the groups the IRS selected for audit, 100% were right-leaning.

Source: Wall Street Journal blogs

Rather than blaming the IRS, perhaps there really was abuse of tax exempt status by conservatives. Progressives say that there is rampant abuse among conservative social welfare organizations, and that they provide the main channel for large anonymous donors to give towards political activity (source NPR).

These numbers have a context: there were far more right-leaning 501(c) (4) applications in the last election cycle. The IRS targeted the keywords “Conservative,” “Tea Party,” “Patriot” and “Progressive” in applications, but of the 111 applications that matched that list, only 7 were “Progressive” (source NPR)! What was also ignored is the conservative keyword list was just one of the keyword lists the IRS used.

A bill currently working its way through Congress earmarks $200,000 in the IRS budget for training on 501(C)(4). The Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI says it is not likely to file any criminal charges, but the FBI says officially their investigation is still in ongoing. Congressional investigations continue. I’ll wait and see.

1The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp, the same Rupert Murdoch company that owns Fox News. They are being hypocritical when they complain of anti-conservative bias at the IRS, when they practice blatant anti-Democrat bias under Murdoch’s ownership. According to the Wikipedia:

The [Wall Street Journal] op-ed section routinely publishes articles by scientists skeptical of the theory of global warming, including several essays by Richard Lindzen of MIT. Similarly, the Journal has refused to publish opinions of prominent scientists with opposing conclusions.[43]

Gentleman Boss

President’s Day is nearing its close, but I don’t want to let it pass unnoticed. The title of this article is the name of the definitive biography by Thomas C. Reeves of one American President, Chester Alan Arthur.

With many of our presidents, their term of office begins with high hopes and then realism sets in. There are no magic solutions to our problems, and sometimes the President is the scapegoat. Some of our Presidents were pretty crummy, while some still inspire us to this day.

Chester Arthur is one of these rare presidents who, while not great, exceeded expectations. It has been said of Arthur: “He would leave office with more respect than when he entered it.”

In the 19th century, machine politics ran much of American government. In this system a political boss doled out government jobs (patronage) in exchange for the office holders working to keep the boss and his machine in power. Viewed as a product of the New York City Republican Machine, Arthur was expected to reward his cronies, but once in office he worked to end corruption and begin to dismantle the spoils system and political patronage by aggressively filling vacancies on the Civil Service system and supporting reform.

Arthur is also credited with the revitalization of a crumbling US Navy. So I offer this tribute to Chester A. Arthur, a President who did a lot better than folks expected.

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