The sad irony of the IRS and AP scandals

There has never been a time when somebody in our government was not misbehaving in some kind of way, whether it’s overthrowing democratically elected presidents of other countries or tailoring legislation to fill the pockets of campaign donors. The latest misbehavior has involved the surveillance of the Associated Press by the Justice Department as part of an investigation of leaks of classified information and the targeted scrutiny of conservative political “non-profits” by the IRS. The sad irony in these incidents is that the government is behaving undemocratically and very clumsily in response to issues that are legitimately undermining our democracy.

The IRS scandal has to do with the open cynicism in the world of political “non-profits.” Basically you can get non-profit status for an organization that puts out political advertising during election season as long as your advertising has to do with “promoting social welfare” and not with supporting a particular candidate (wink wink nudge nudge).

If you’re promoting a candidate, then your organization has to report itself in a different tax category with a different set of regulations. So you circumvent this regulation by attacking the opposing candidate’s position on a particular issue and give your front organization a name like Americans for the Right to Eat Coal for Breakfast so that you’re not supporting a candidate per se; you’re just passionate about your “issue.” I can’t think of anything in tour political discourse more contrary to our “social welfare” than these attack ads.

The other thing that has destroyed our democracy is our media’s addiction to scandal. Instead of having intelligent (and boring) conversations about the relative merits of different policy, the pundits would much rather talk about political gamesmanship and strategy and turn the whole thing into a horse race. One of the fuels for this fire are the information leaks that the press is able to obtain from government officials “on condition of anonymity.”

Now maybe I just don’t have the right perspective on journalism, but I have a real ethical problem with anonymous sources. I don’t feel like there were as many anonymous sources 15 years ago in the news as there are today. And it seems to me that the increasing use of anonymous sources is directly related to the conversion of news into entertainment and the parallel conversion of governance into a horse race. The show Scandal is such a perfect illustration of our cultural ethos. It’s about a government that doesn’t do any governing because all that exists are scandals and press conferences and coverups.

The Justice Department investigation had to do with an anonymous source that leaked classified information about a foiled terrorist plot that was stopped by the CIA. There was a scandal when the leak happened because it seemed like a clumsy way for the administration to get credit for fighting terrorism. Now there’s a scandal about the investigation of the leak. So the political beneficiaries of these two scandals get to double-dip.

My friend John Meunier in the context of a completely unrelated discussion draws a distinction between polemical and constructive conversation:

Polemics — as I understand the word — implies a level of combative argumentation over a controversial topic in which the goal is to win the point. As I use the term “constructive,” I mean… the shared effort to inquire and learn in which all sides start with the assumption that they might in the end discover that their position is untenable or must be changed.

Our country’s political discourse has become entirely polemical. There is no longer a good-faith effort to seek solutions for our country’s problems constructively, which would require knowing that you are coming at these problems from very different perspectives but having the basic insight that you’ve got some blind-spots and things to learn from those who see the world differently. Instead, almost all of the energy is being channeled into pummeling the other side’s image through scandals so that they’re in a weaker negotiating position.

I’ve shared before that the Greek word for devil is diabolos which is a compound word built from the words ballo (to throw) and dia (amidst). People who delight in scandal are diabolical by definition. I don’t know how much uglier it will get. Rene Girard theorizes about how scandal escalates in a society to the point that a scapegoat is needed upon which all the collective fury can be released so that peace can be restored. The problem is Jesus already played that role, and so many of the people who love fanning the flames of today’s scandals the most are supposedly His people.

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About Morgan Guyton

I’m the director of the NOLA Wesley Foundation, which is the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans, LA.

  • http://gravatar.com/qmommad qmommad

    This was also the discussion at Bible Study this morning. People engage in “truth reporting” in many ways to bring to light an egregious action—the truth becomes a scandal when the accused attempts to cover-up or deflect facts or suggestions of impropriety. The whistleblower than becomes the “messenger” who gets killed for doing the right thing.
    While I would disagree that “There is no longer a good-faith effort to seek solutions for our country’s problems constructively”, my view of government is jaded to the extent that no media report goes on face value without scrutiny, as it should be. Of course the media loves a scandal,..it is a business, after all.
    The real focus needs to be on media bias, reporting “scandals” to promote one side or another, distorting the truth, selecting/ omitting the truth, etc…It is naïve to think that what is reported in the media is an accurate account of what is actually happening—hasn’t that become apparent by now? There have always been anonymous sources, and Praise God for them. We give immunity to criminals to get to the truth, why not protect those that sincerely want to call attention to those people and institutions committing egregious actions without further retribution toward themselves or their families?

    • Morgan Guyton

      I can see what you’re saying about anonymous sources. I just hate the scandal and I think more of it is the fault of the media itself than people are naming.

  • http://descriptivegrace.wordpress.com descriptivegrace

    Lets cut the bull and call it what it is: Obama’s a communist crook who wants to overthrow capitalism and democracy so he needs to bully the opposition into non-existence via the IRS and bully the press into submission (or into staying submitted). This is not just typical gov’ment misbehavior: this is the very sort of thing impeachment was put into the constitution to handle.

    • Morgan Guyton

      You lose all your credibility with me when you call Obama a communist. That’s a specific ideological system that simply doesn’t match up with the decisions that Obama’s made. You’re living in a parallel universe of Fox News bizarro-land if you call the train-wreck of Obamacare “communism.” Actually the opposite was the problem. Obama sold out to all the special interests who said they would back him, so now it’s a system that scratches the health insurance industry’s back by forcing young healthy people onto their insurance rolls to give them more money. There’s nothing communist about that.

      • http://descriptivegrace.wordpress.com descriptivegrace

        “You lose all your credibility with me when you call Obama a communist.”

        You lose all your credibility with me when you say Obama is not a communist. You’re living in a parallel universe of CNN News bizarro-land if you call the train-wreck of Obamacare anything other than “communism.”

        But beyond that, do I need any credibility? My point is obvious to anyone other than a brain-dead communist like yourself. The best thing to prevent a civil war is to impeach Obama over the 3 scandals going on right now. Hopefully congress will grow a set and do that before war breaks out.

        • Morgan Guyton

          I just hope that you don’t kill anybody.

      • http://descriptivegrace.wordpress.com descriptivegrace

        “I just hope that you don’t kill anybody.”

        I don’t kill people.

      • http://www.facebook.com/gup20 Ben Guptill

        I disagree. Pravda – formerly the official communist newspaper of the communist Soviet Union has directly called Obama a communist. http://english.pravda.ru/opinion/columnists/19-11-2012/122849-obama_soviet_mistake-0/ Having been actual, former communists, they unabashedly proclaim Obama’s actions to be be communist. Moreover, if one looks at the 9 planks of communism, one can see that Obama has moved our country “forward” (a communist slogan, btw) toward each and every one of them. Collectivism is the “fundamental transformation of America” Obama promised in his 2008 campaign. Check out this interesting article that shows how Obama has systematically attacked the Bill of Rights:

        http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/the-irs-ap-and-benghazi-scandals-are-just-part-of-the-obama-administrations-war-on-the-bill-of-rights/

        Very soon, it will come to light that Obama (through Clinton in the State Department) gave Al Queda affiliated groups weapons in Libya to oust Gaddafi. The reason Ambassador Stevens was in Benghazi was to try to get those Al Queda groups to give those weapons back. They answered by attacking and killing him (probably with the very weapons Obama gave them). Then, it will come out that Obama is CURRENTLY giving Al Queda groups weapons in Syria to oust Assad.

        • Morgan Guyton

          Wow. That’s a pretty wild conspiracy theory.

      • http://www.facebook.com/gup20 Ben Guptill

        descriptivegrace, I don’t think calling Morgan a “brain dead communist” is going to help you to convince him of anything except that he’s right to ignore you. While I agree with your point – that Obama is demonstrably communist – I don’t agree with the way you are presenting yourself. The Bible admonishes us to speak the truth in love. I also agree with you that I am all but certain that Obama will be impeached. He’s absolutely the worst president in history. In an effort to destroy our economy and transform it into a socialist or communist one, he has done serious damage to our country. I personally feel that he and Hilary Clinton should both be tried for treason over the Benghazi issue.

        http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/05/21/report-more-benghazi-whistleblowers-to-reveal-devastating-details-on-terror-attack-including-why-chris-stevens-was-in-libya/

  • dmack89

    I have heard about this fellow that suggested those that were well off should help those without, even to the point of selling everything they had and redistributing the proceeds to the poor. I think he even came from a society that had laws about caring for their widows and orphans, making all of the society responsible for the care of those who did not prosper in it. Some might call that society and that fellow communist, I call them the people of God and Jesus the Christ. Seems to me some of us learned those lessons and try to live by them, regardless of the political affiliation of those we seek to help, while others…….hmmmm. That polemics concept seems to fit some well.

    • http://descriptivegrace.wordpress.com descriptivegrace

      There is a difference, however. Jesus may indeed have asked his followers to sell all their possessions and give the money to the poor (and hence become poor themselves and in need of a handout, not very bright). But he didn’t call for the government to force everyone into this: it was voluntary. This is the difference between Jesus’ lame-brained bleeding-heart economics and communism. And the way it worked out was that when the church was established, Jesus’ followers gave all their money to the church which in turn took care of the poor. Remember in Acts how every Christian who had property sold it and laid it at the apostles’ feet…yet they didn’t send out their own little IRS goons to force the Sadducees and Pharisees to do the same! It was voluntary. Remember also how Ananias and Sapphira sold some land and lied and said they gave all the money to the apostles, but Peter knew they lied and struck Ananias dead with magic power for it, and said “When the property was yours, was it not under your own power? Why then has Satan filled your hearts to lie to the Holy Ghost?” In other words, you weren’t under compulsion to give us all the money, you could have kept some of the profit back, but we wont tolerate you lying about it. So, no, the communists are not at all like Jesus, because their system is not volunteer. IN FACT by making the system compulsory on everyone, they’ve destroyed Jesus’ welfare system, i.e. the church. Used to when people wanted a handout they went and joined the local church which gladly took care of their physical needs in exchange for the conversion of their soul…but now that the government has taken over the welfare business the churches are emptying out.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gup20 Ben Guptill

      Dmack, the difference is Jesus put the responsibility on the individual to take care of the poor, not on the government. That’s a HUGE difference.

  • Pingback: Which do you like better? Scandal or changing the world? | Mercy not Sacrifice


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