The IRS and big government
Obamanomics has spurred increasing distrust of government — and that was before the tax scandal.

Reuters

Women walk out of an Internal Revenue Service office in New York April 18, 2011.

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  • .@JimPethokoukis: Obamanomics has spurred increasing distrust of govt — and that was before the tax scandal.

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  • The expanding Internal Revenue Service scandal could hardly be any more 'Drudgeriffic'.

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  • .@JimPethokoukis: Little about Obamanomics has built confidence that government can actually solve problems.

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The expanding Internal Revenue Service scandal could hardly be any more Drudgeriffic. Well, maybe if in addition to singling out groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, the agency had purchased a few billions rounds of hollow-point ammo. Maybe then. But even as is, the scandal is looking pretty bad and getting worse. The Wall Street Journal is now reporting that the IRS also “scrutinized conservative groups for raising political concerns over government spending, debt and taxes or even for advocating making America a better place to live.”

We’ll see where this eventually goes. Maybe the whole story really is just about a few bad apples in the IRS Cincinnati office — or maybe as more details emerge, the mainstream media will start tagging it “IRS-gate.” Either way, it probably represents the last shovelful of dirt on the central mission of Barack Obama’s presidency: rehabilitating Big Government’s reputation as a necessary first step toward a new Progressive Era. In his first inaugural address, Obama tried to reframe in technocratic terms the issue of government’s proper size and scope: “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.”

In essence, Obama was reopening an issue many hoped had closed after President Bill Clinton declared that the “era of big government is over” in his 1996 State of the Union address. Then, at his second inaugural, Obama answered the question posed back in his first, saying that although “we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, . . . we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.” Big Government was back, baby.

But those bold words were out of sync with the results of the Obama agenda. Indeed, they were barely out the president’s mouth when Pew Research put out a damning survey with this conclusion: “As Barack Obama begins his second term in office, trust in federal government remains mired near a historic low, while frustration with government remains high.”

And why wouldn’t it? Little about Obamanomics has built confidence that government led by the Left’s best and brightest can actually solve problems — or at least solve them without creating even worse, unintended consequences. Take Obama’s three major policy achievements: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

The $800 billion stimulus was supposed to kick-start the economic recovery. Instead of the unemployment rate’s dropping back to 5 percent, as Team Obama predicted for 2013, the collapse in labor-force participation, notes a new Goldman Sachs report, means the real jobless rate is more like 9 percent.

A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 35 percent of Americans viewed Obamacare “very” or “somewhat” favorably, statistically tied with the lowest level of support since it passed in March 2010. And that was before a landmark study cast into doubt whether the heart of Obamacare, the vast Medicaid expansion, will do much of anything to improve health-care outcomes.

And last week, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke reiterated that Dodd-Frank has yet to end “too big to fail.” Instead, the megabanks have become only bigger and the financial sector even more concentrated.

If you are keeping score at home, Obama is zero for three. And now Americans have been reminded that not only is big and intrusive government inefficient, it is also often corrupt. The Obama administration and its all-star cast were supposed to be progressivism’s 21st-century proof of concept. Instead, they may have set progressivism back for another generation.

— James Pethokoukis, a columnist, blogs for the American Enterprise Institute.

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