Is that Anthony Crispino I’ve been hearing tell us what horrific things President Obama has done? I think so.
Crispino — Bobby Moynihan’s “Saturday Night Live” “second-hand news” character — knows everything except for everything.
“Didja hear the IRS interrogated the tea party?” I hear Crispino say. “Yeah. It’s true.”
It doesn’t phase Anthony at all when reality interjects, Seth Meyers-style: “Actually, Anthony, the IRS interviewed leaders of tea party groups that sought tax exemption.”
“Oh, yeah. It was interrogation,” says Crispino. “And you know how I know? The Army was involved.”
How so, Anthony?
“’You heard that Obama sent in this general.”
You mean the IRS inspector general?
Ah, whatever. For this news cycle, parody is sitting in for reality. Those people constructed to believe the worst about a good president will construct stories you wouldn’t believe. And shouldn’t.
Didja hear that the White House had the House cloak room wiretapped? Well, yeah, you read it on the Drudge Report.
Except: After Congressman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., birthed the claim on right-wing radio and it circled the globe as “truth,” Nunes said he, um, misspoke.
The sad thing: The reason such scandal scavengers can get any mileage out of such baselessness at the moment is because the FBI has to defend something truly odious — subpoenaing assorted Associated Press phone records, which included the main number for the AP in the House press gallery. See? The cloak room.
That’s not wiretapping. That’s not even close. Still, the FBI’s actions provided an opening through which pink elephants could fly.
In the same way, the Internal Revenue Service has provided a monster opening to the Anthony Crispinos of the world by having given extra scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax exemption.
Understand: Scrutiny is exactly what taxpayers demand. Tax-exempt non profits shouldn’t be partisan fronts. But taxpayers demand evenhandedness, too. The IRS has disgraced itself and disserved the nation.
Did I mention pink elephants? Former Reagan speechifier Peggy Noonan let ‘em fly when she used hearsay and sour grapes from a few Republicans to report that the IRS had audited them as Obama-style payback.
Leave it to The New York Times’ Nate Silver, the Einstein of political probability, to analyze Noonan’s claim down to raw hysteria. Statistically, he points out, it is a certainty that many in America’s 1 percent will get audited. Get used to it, rich white folks.
Regardless of administration, D or R, he wrote, “The probability of being audited is highest for high-income taxpayers.” He observed that 12 percent of individuals who made more than $1 million were audited last year.
But seriously, now. No joke. No pun. No giggle. This IRS stuff is a serious matter.
The fanciful claims now afloat by anti-Obama balloonists are exactly why what the IRS did was wrong and stupid. Americans should be able to trust their government to treat each of them equally. Doing anything else inflates those hot-air rigs ever-ready to launch.
In The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin writes, “The real scandal — is that 501(c)(4) groups have been engaged in political activity in such a sustained and open way.”
The tax code has been abused by players on both sides of the political spectrum. An aggressive, effective — and most important, credible — IRS is crucial.
The tea party claims to be nonpartisan. I will claim to have shattered the Olympic long-jump record in fourth grade. Let the tea party’s spawns prove the claim if they are to be tax-exempt. I cannot prove mine, unfortunately.
As Obama has made clear, the IRS made a horrible blunder — one that makes it more difficult to do a difficult job.
What it also did was give all those Anthony Crispinos out there a reason to tell stories you wouldn’t believe.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Contact Young at firstname.lastname@example.org.