In Defense Of Lois Lerner

You’d think she killed somebody.

Lois Lerner, who on Wednesday invoked her right against self-incrimination, is being attacked, by nearly everyone in the country who knows who she is, for her role in the IRS v. Tea Party “scandal,” which, of course, isn’t quite a scandal yet, but Republicans keep trying. Some of the most vicious attacks are coming from Constitution-loving right-wingers, who can’t believe Lerner would actually use something other than the Second Amendment to protect herself.I Have Not Done Anything Wrong: IRS Official Lois Lerner Invokes 5th Amendment Right

MSNBC’s conservative gabber, S.E. Cupp, who provides a damn good reason not to watch that network’s afternoon show “The Cycle,” took to tweetin’ yesterday to say,

So, Lois Lerner is either a coward or a criminal, right? Tell me where I’m wrong.

Apparently, S.E. Cupp studied the Constitution at the Rush Limbaugh School of Law, which ought to be enough right there to tell her where she’s wrong.

And speaking of Professor Limbaugh, he said about Ms. Lerner:

Okay, let me tell you what happened today at the IRS hearings. Lois Lerner, who ran the whole kit and caboodle and was… By the way, this was the first time I had a close-up look at her. This is an angry woman. You have to be very careful in making judgments about people based on physical appearance, although I’ve gotten really good at it. I can spot people out there and I can tell you who the libs are pretty much by just what I see. But, in this case, I already know that she is.

I already know that she’s a liberal, I know that she is in the same mode as Barack Obama, and now I know this is a woman who’s angry…This is a woman obsessed with the Christian right, Lois Lerner. This is a woman obsessed with religious people.

Okay. So, from two popular conservative commentators (there are a thousand more to choose from) we know that Lerner, by refusing to testify, is an angry, Jesus-hating woman who is either a criminal or a coward. All because she dared to avail herself of a constitutional right. Hmm.

The honcho of the Republican National Committee, the insufferable Reince Priebus, himself issued a Tweet regarding his discussion with Sean Hannity about this mess:

…it’s lawlessness and guerrilla warfare and Obama is in the middle of it.

Yikes! Obama is a gorilla, uh, guerrilla!

In any case, Priebus, appearing on Morning Joe today, commented on Lois Lerner’s right-invoking committee appearance:

You don’t need to plead the Fifth if you have done nothing wrong…

Obviously, Priebus also attended Rush Limbaugh’s law school. Even though he was aggressively challenged by Morning Joe regular John Heilemann, Priebus didn’t back down. In Priebus’ strange and disordered mind, pleading the Fifth is tantamount to an admission of guilt, don’t you know. Damn those Founders!

But right-wingers aren’t the only ones saying such stupid things. This morning on Morning Joe, which prejudicially carried a graphic characterizing Lerner’s brief statement as “defiant,” I heard Andy Serwer, managing editor of Fortune magazine, for God’s sake, say this:

What an unsympathetic position. We just saw her pleading the Fifth. This is something that mafia chieftains do in front of Congress, not public officials, not someone from the IRS. Obviously everyone just wants to know the real story, we want her to come clean. How bad could it be? I’m sorry, “You need to tell what’s going on here,”  and, you know, to just do otherwise is just ridiculous, and the IRS is just going to continue to be a piñata. And obviously is not’s just right-wing groups who are upset with this, but every American citizen should be upset with this.

Mafia chieftain? Wow. So much for presumed innocence. I remind you that the man who said that is a, gulp, journalist.

Well, I may be the only one in the world who has sympathy for this woman, but I can’t help it. I still happen to believe in the noble and once-American concept of innocent-until-proven-guilty. And I really do believe in the Constitution, which also includes the Fifth Amendment’s right to remain silent should someone try to compel any person “to be a witness against himself.”

Republican legislators, who, like all Tea Party-drunk conservatives, claim to love, cherish, and lustily sleep with the Constitution, were upset on Wednesday when Ms. Lerner invokedLois Lerner her Fifth Amendment right just after she made a plea of innocence and after Darrell Issa, headhunting chairman of the House’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee, talked her into authenticating a document.

I watched as Trey Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor who now represents right-wing folks in South Carolina’s 4th congressional district, forgot that he was not in a federal courtroom but at a congressional hearing and insisted that Lerner “ought to stand here and answer our questions.” Uh, she was actually sitting at the time, but then, hey, maybe being a former prosecutor and current zealot entitles one to demand that witnesses stand during the inquisition. Heck, why not go the whole way and roll out the rack? Bones cracking would make good TV.

But that’s beside the point. Gowdy said of Lerner,

You don’t get to tell your side of the story and not be subject to cross-examination.

Whoa, cowboy. Settle down there. (Some folks in the gallery were applauding at Gowdy’s prosecutorial grandstanding, and Issa did nothing to stop them, by the way.) Lerner didn’t actually tell her side of the story. There’s a lot of story to tell, if she ever tells it, and she didn’t even come close with these words:

I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee. And while I would very much like to answer the committee’s questions today, I’ve been advised by my counsel to assert my constitutional right not to testify or answer questions related to the subject matter of this hearing. 

After very careful consideration, I’ve decided to follow my counsel’s advice and not testify or answer any of the questions today. Because I’m asserting my right not to testify, I know that some people will assume that I’ve done something wrong. I have not. One of the basic functions of the Fifth Amendment is to protect innocent individuals, and that is the protection I’m invoking today.

After initially and correctly telling everyone that they should respect Lerner’s Fifth Amendment right without prejudging her, Issa later put on his big-boy Tea Party pants and now agrees with Gowdy and others who believe she lost her constitutional right not to incriminate herself. He’s going to call her back to appear again. Whoopee! More good cable TV to come!  Maybe next time they really will crack her bones!

As with so many things in this litigious world of ours, there are at least two sides of this Fifth Amendment “controversy.” There are those lawyers who think she did not waive her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by offering a brief statement of her innocence. Of course, those lawyers did not attend the Rush Limbaugh School of Law, so what do they know?

And, of course, as Reince Priebus indicated, this all comes back to President Obama. Conservative Republican Joe Scarborough said on MSNBC this morning,

Why is the president allowing this to go on? This IRS story is another great example of just sheer incompetence at the White House to get their story out in a clean, effective way…

Yes, the Prez should simply strip Ms. Lerner of her constitutional rights, force her to tell Darrell Issa what he wants to hear, and then impeach himself after it’s all done. That, and only that, will satisfy the mob.

Finally, the truth in all this just may be found in a little article on The Daily Beast published today. The story quotes a man who used to hold the same position Lois Lerner now holds:

“It was inevitable something was going to happen,” said Marcus Owens, who served as director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division from 1990 until he retired in 2000. That was the same year that the 1998 IRS Restructuring and Reform Act was implemented, ushering in, he said, a culture of disorganization and miscommunication.

“Virtually all IRS executive positions were re-aligned and re-evaluated and a lot of field offices positions were eliminated. The channels of communication between field offices and the Washington headquarters were muddied,” Owens said. “Instead of having clear, hierarchical oversight, Cincinnati was given the responsibility to handle things that would normally be handled by the better-equipped Washington office.”

He went on to say,

“This is a case of funding problems and management problems. Everyone is thinking that the IRS was hunting down conservative organizations with bloodhounds or something when what they were really doing was opening the morning’s mail… The IRS is really a collection agency for the government. Tax returns that generate revenue must be accurate, but those that don’t generate revenue receive less attention,” he said. “That’s just the way it is.”

I doubt very much if we hear a lot from Marcus Owens or hear a lot about the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998. But we should. (By the way, only two U.S. Senators voted against that bill, including that great progressive, the late Paul Wellstone, so that ought to tell us something.) The likelihood that we won’t hear much about Owens or that 1998 law tells us something very important about the state of journalism these days, perhaps something more important than a prominent journalist going on TV and comparing a Fifth Amendment-invoking IRS employee to a “mafia chieftain.”

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[photo credit: Getty Images (top) and AP (bottom)]

The Spirit Of Ayn Rand Versus Obama

Please tolerate the length of this essay. Hopefully you will be rewarded by staying with it:

othing causes conservatives more consternation than hearing the truth about what actually makes human societies flourish.

Such a truth was spoken  by President Obama last week during a campaign stop in Roanoke, Va., and what he said has driven already hateful right-wingers even further into the abyss of Obama-hate.  Here is the part of his speech you usually hear critics play:

That one phrase is played or quoted again and again, including on Tuesday by Mitt Romney:

If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.

So, what was Mr. Obama’s point? Oh, I’ll let him tell you, in context and as as part of the rest of what he said:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own.  I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service.  That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together.  That’s how we funded the GI Bill.  That’s how we created the middle class.  That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam.  That’s how we invented the Internet.  That’s how we sent a man to the moon.  We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President — because I still believe in that idea.  You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.

Wow. What a controversial idea! We’re in this together? Nobody can do it alone? Are you kidding me? No wonder Rush Limbaugh said this about Obama’s words:

Somebody who loves America, who loves the founding, who understands it and knows everything about it, this is a declaration of war against the country.  This is a declaration of war from the White House.  This is a declaration of war against what this country’s always been.

And Limbaugh said this:

I think it can now be said, without equivocation — without equivocation — that this man hates this country. He is trying — Barack Obama is trying — to dismantle, brick by brick, the American dream.

Now, it is easy to dismiss an ideological prostitute like Limbaugh. But rising Randian star Paul Ryan—who Romney is considering as a VP pick—had something to say about Obama’s remarks too:

This is not a Bill Clinton Democrat. He’s got this very government-centric, old 20th century collectivist philosophy which negates the American experiment, which is people living in communities, supporting one another, having government stick to its limits so it can do its job really well … Those of us who are conservative believe in government, we just believe government has limits. We want government to do what it does well and respect its limits so civil society and families can flourish on their own and do well and achieve their potential.

Gawd. As an aside, you gotta love the right’s recent embrace of Bill Clinton (see here  for Romney’s version), a man some of them accused of drug trafficking and murder just 15 short years ago. But beyond that,  look at what Paul Ryan said more closely. He contrasted “collectivist philosophy” with “the American experiment, which is people living in communities, supporting one another…” Isn’t “living in communities, supporting one another” what collectivist philosophy ultimately entails? Huh?

Ryan said,

We want government to do what it does well and respect its limits so civil society and families can flourish on their own and do well and achieve their potential.

How, you have to ask yourself, can civil society and families flourish “on their own,” if it is conceded that government is necessary for them to do that? I have discussed before the incoherence of the anti-collectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand (and Ryan is a Rand devotee, despite what he claims now), but the incoherence here is stunning.

But perhaps the most stunning thing I saw related to Obama’s common-sense comments about success was on MSNBC on Tuesday.  S. E. Cupp, who used to spout Obama-hate on Fox and other places, is now a regular panelist and rotating host on a show called The Cycle. Today she offered an incoherent commentary that included an on-screen quote from none other than Ayn Rand:

Cupp began,

According to President Obama, you don’t get anywhere through your own hard work or ingenuity. Every success you have is thanks to the collaborative work of thousands from the people who collect your taxes to the people who pave your roads. Well, of course that’s true in that most folks have a kind friend, a nurturing relative, a wise mentor or, well, a paved road to drive. We’re all products of an American community that helps each other out from time to time. But that generosity of spirit is the very reason the president thinks we should abandon the notion of the American dream and individual success in favor of collectivism, that incredibly inspiring belief that success is shared and the state alone can make all your dreams come true.

Besides the shocking incoherence of this paragraph—she is criticizing Obama’s remarks even though she admits, “We’re all products of an American community that helps each other out from time to time”—Cupp lies about what Obama said. He did not say, “you don’t get anywhere through your own hard work or ingenuity,” nor did he say, “we should abandon the notion of the American dream and individual success in favor of collectivism.” What he actually said was a variation of what Cupp herself admitted:

…when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

You see, the problem with the right-wing punditry and the right-wing political class in the Age of The Scary Negro is that even a simple declaration that we’re not in this world alone, that we can and do depend on others for help—something that conservatives gladly admit—becomes on the lips of the right-wing’s black devil, a thing of disgust, of hate-inducing hysteria.

When these hysterical reactionaries, most of them Christians, invoke the name or reference the ideas of Ayn Rand, they are endorsing a strange and silly philosophy, one which completely misunderstands how mankind has engineered success against the vicissitudes of nature.

Ms. Rand’s heroes were “the men who produce,”  those,

who think and work, who discover how to deal with existence, how to produce the intellectual and the material values it requires.

These “forgotten men of history,” she said,

are first to discover any scrap of new knowledge, are the men who deal with reality, with the task of conquering nature, and who, to that extent, assume the responsibility of cognition: of exercising their rational faculty.

The task of conquering nature” is given to those producers and everyone else is a parasite, living on their efforts. The “rational faculty” is man’s “unique reward,” his instrument of survival, his means of conquering nature:

…animals survive by adjusting themselves to their background, man survives by adjusting his background to himself. If a drought strikes them, animals perish—man builds irrigation canals; if a flood strikes them, animals perish—man builds dams; if a carnivorous pack attacks them animals perish—man writes the Constitution of the United States.*

Ah, there’s the obvious silliness, the unmistakable flaw in Rand’s elaborate, self-created philosophy she called “Objectivism.” In that Constitution she praises, in that document she regards as the product of man’s reason designed to combat the “carnivorous pack,” are the words,

We the people…a more perfect unioncommon defence, general Welfare…

In the preamble to our Constitution those collectivist words represent the secret of man’s tentative success, the only hope he has of conquering nature, of overcoming the carnivorous pack. Our Constitution, with its appeal to collectivism, is perhaps the last best hope of mankind for conquering the worst angels of our nature, of making a civilization out of competing individuals, of ensuring that “success” includes all of us, not just a fortunate few.

And in their obvious and embarrassing hatred for Barack Obama, conservatives are willing to attack the premise of our American civilization, so eloquently expressed by the President:

We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President — because I still believe in that idea.  You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.

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All of the Rand quotes are from my copy of For The New Intellectual.

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