Imagine that you have taken a position contrary to the official dictates of the government in your nation. Instead of simply facing criticism from opposing political sides, you find your life turned upside-down; every aspect of your life is closely scrutinized. Without warning, your life savings are seized, your personal, private records divulged far and wide. Suddenly, how willing are you to continue holding your views?
It sounds almost like a slice of life from the dictatorships of the world's past or in the modern third world.
Or is it?
For many years the fearful power of the Internal Revenue Service has been used in just that fashion against Americans.
It's unfortunate enough that IRS employees - unfairly perhaps the most hated individuals in the nation - by the virtue of their jobs have to enforce tax policies which run contrary to our nation's notion of freedom, but what is worse is that these individuals have many times been used to carry out far less appropriate agendas for elected officials and federal bureaucrats.
This tactic has been used by Republicans and Democrats alike; neither are without the sin. We know that Richard Nixon often used the IRS - or at least the threat of the IRS - to silence groups opposed to his re-election efforts.
In recently released White House recordings, former President Nixon made it abundantly clear that he wanted the IRS to be cracking down on groups (like "the Jews," he said) and individuals who were contributing to the Democrats. It has recently been revealed that Mr. Nixon was planning on having the IRS investigate every member of Congress because "it worries the (expletive) out of the thieves It really does. Even if a person isn't a thief "
Likewise, it is becoming increasingly clear that President Clinton's White House has engaged in similar tactics.
Diverse groups, ranging from small churches in Texas to the NRA, are reporting that the threat of the IRS has been held over their heads unless they repent of their often conservative views.
The hypocrisy is palatable: Vice President Al Gore can go to a Buddhist Temple and hold a fundraiser without an official eye being batted. President Clinton regularly invited speaks at churches, and Jesse Jackson actually makes political fundraising speeches from pulpits, yet the IRS takes no action. The unions spend millions of dollars - without any opposition - promoting liberals and bashing conservatives.
Yet conservative groups and churches have lately come under intense scrutiny by the IRS. All of them are groups which tend to hold views opposite those of the President, Vice President and the Democrats.
But again, this has nothing to do with partisanship. If anything, the power of the IRS has been fairly well used and abused by members of both political parties.
While looking at the countless number of cases of the IRS being used as a political tool of administrations past and present may be interesting and even instructive, we should instead be focusing on what has allowed these cases to occur.
The problem is not with the IRS agents themselves, but with the policies behind the Internal Revenue Service.
First, under the state of the law, the IRS is a tool of the Executive Branch, the presidency. The IRS must follow - almost without question - the orders of the executive.
Second, the Internal Revenue Code is bulky, confusing and downright unintelligible: an individual of the absolute best intentions can violate major sections of the code without realizing it. The code itself makes it likely we all have violated something - we just haven't been caught. And that is preciously what keeps so many people up late into the night worrying about - what they may have unknowingly done, and what the results may be.
Third, under the administrative law which governs the IRS and all other federal agencies, a person found to be violating the code must prove themselves innocent, a concept which runs contrary to our judicial system in virtually every other area of law. This has the real effect of forcing individuals to passively submit to the agency's decrees not because the individual believes they did anything wrong, but simply because they do not have the resources to prove their innocence.
Taken individually, all three are bad. But when added together, the IRS becomes a recipe for disaster. Or worse.
The answer is not to simply revise the code, or to make the IRS more independent, or to have an added layer of judicial review, the answer is to fundamentally change the way we collect taxes in this nation. The nonsensical body of law which governs the IRS is too far removed from sanity to be saved. And the graduated income tax system is neither fair, economically sound, moral nor useful.
In my mind, the jury is still out on whether a flat tax or a national sales tax is the absolute best way to go (my main goal is for lower taxes, across-the-board), but both will go a long way toward eliminating the politically powerful weapon known as the IRS.
We need not only a simpler, fairer system to eliminate the second problem I described, but also a smaller, more inexpensive agency responsible for collecting the taxes to solve the first. Finally, by making Congress directly responsible for the levy and collection of taxes - as constitutionally prescribed - the third problem vanishes by placing legal questions squarely in the hands of the legitimate federal court system. And best of all, Congressmen - the direct representatives of the people - become more accountable.
There is no reason why we must fear the IRS. But in fact, there is no real reason to even have an IRS.
Like so many of the problems we see in our nation today, the heavy political hand of the IRS being used against individuals is not ultimately traceable to the employees of the federal government, but to the elected officials who have allowed unconstitutional principles and practices to take hold in our country. It is only when we restore the integrity of the Constitution, and follow the wisdom of our Founding Fathers, that we will see these problems corrected.
To paraphrase Mr. Nixon, the system treats us all like thieves, even though we aren't.
There is no reason why we must fear the IRS. But there are plenty of reasons why we should end the IRS.