(Not) the Smartest People in the Room

by Martin Harris

Sometimes, an opinionator like your Humble Scribe has no opinion on a subject, just a question; that’s the case with recent revelations of a tri-fecta of “scandals” related to Executive Branch (mis) management: the violation of the leave-no-man-behind US military doctrine during the Benghazi attack; the violation of the narrow-scope national-security requirement for secret monitoring of Associated Press news reporters; and most recently, the violation of First Amendment freedoms, by selecting only conservative organizations and large donors by the Internal Revenue Service for special audits and delayed processing. For all three the now-standard tri-fecta of explanations –“we’ll make sure it never happens again” and “we can’t comment during an investigation” and “we don’t know anything about that”—has been offered. For the IRS event in particular, a now-memorable phrase from the Watergate scandal has re-surfaced: “what did the President know and when did he know it?” but that’s not the question causing HS puzzlement. Instead, it’s a two-fer: “when did the Republican National Committee know and why didn’t it sound the alarm?” and actually, we have a pretty good handle on the first (when) although none at all on the second (why).

We now know about this deliberate abuse-for-political-advantage while the major players are still in office; that’s unlike past scandals (think JFK with his “Ideological Organizations Audit Project” and RMN with his “Enemies’ List”) when technology was slower and such details surfaced only well after the event (think SoS-emerita-Clinton’s “what difference does it make?” dismissal of supposedly stale information) and now, those who had a hand in orchestrating these three are still in government. Thus, we know that the RNC knew about the Legislative Branch’s Leftist members –think Baucus (D-Montana), Schumer (D-NY) and apparently seven others addressing formal letters to the IRS demanding investigation of Tea Party and similar groups, simply because there were Republicans in the Senate Chamber with the letter-writers at the time. We know that the IRS accommodated the requests: it has admitted, now, that “mistakes were made” and apologized. We don’t yet know when or whether the various White House Sergeant-Schulz types –“I know nothing”—knew about the politically-designed targeting, but that’s not the HS question for the RNC and its State organizations. Instead, it’s the same question being directed, on a few occasions recently, to the IRS itself: why didn’t you publicize and protest these demands for special-audit-attention at the time?

Surely the RNC, as early as 2010 when the Senatorial-Congressional demands for “special IRS attention” to Tea Party type organizations first began, could have publicized the campaign then; it didn’t. Such whistle-blowing then would, most likely, have prevented what subsequently happened in the IRS’ Cincinnati office which was then delegated the invasive-review assignment; it would have inured to the benefit of the RNC reputation, just as whistle-blowers now are being applauded for their civic courage; and, it would have quite credibly damaged the continuing charges from the Left (and, of course, the Main Stream Media) that there’s a major internal conflict between the establishment folks of the older RNC ( think the old “Rockefeller Wing” phrase and the recent RINO acronym) and the more ideologically conservative folks of the newer Tea Party, flat-tax, pro-marriage, and similar groups. But the RNC chose not to blow the whistle in 2010, or in the next three years either, and we don’t know why (not?).

In fairness to the RNC, the Tea Parties themselves made few such highly-audible protests in those years when they were being most bureaucratically persecuted. We know of four: Ohio, Texas, Kentucky, and one called “Unite in Action”. In retrospect, we members who knew of it at the time should all have demanded it. We didn’t. But then, we’re not the leadership, not “the smartest people in the room,” to use a phrase from the Enron years. Neither did any of the State GOP organizations, for example neither the remarkably fast-growing one in Tennessee nor the grimly-hanging-on one in Vermont. We don’t know whether any of the State organizations considered raising a protest but chose not to; whether the subject never came up; or whether –this possibility has been proffered by a knowledgeable Tea Party activist here in Appalachia– the national RNC and the 50 State organizations all saw the IRS audits as a mixed blessing, one which would enable the establishment folks to enjoy minimized competition from the troublesome tri-corn-wearing upstarts on their right flank, and not have to address the conceptual differences between the two groups directly. Wall Street Journal reporter Patrick O’Connor offers these almost-editorial tidbits in his 22 May news report: “…the controversy has re-animated the Tea Party movement at a time when many Republicans in Washington were looking to turn their back on their activist base…” and, regarding Ohio TP activist Tim Zawistowski, “…many Republicans who once expressed indifference are how showering him with attention.” O’Connor describes how the Ohio now-hero was then (during the Romney candidacy) dismissed by the RNC “establishment”.

While the RNC has chosen to remain silent starting back when the IRS event hadn’t yet unfolded and now when it has begun to unfold, it hasn’t been the sole “interested party” to remain silent. Similarly not-yet-heard-from have been the tax-reform groups advocating collection designs based on simple mathematical formulae –think “flat tax”– or transactions –think sales or consumption taxes—which would be so automatic and completely transparent as to require and/or enable no bureaucratic subjective judgment for –a little Prez 44 quote, here—“punishment of enemies and favors for friends” and thereby, truly, “make sure it never happens again”. It’s inherent in the nature of humans and the governments they (we) establish, that those among us who most crave the pleasures of power and authority will gravitate, instinctively, to such seats of governance, and the only cure is to require them to be the administrators of quantified rules and measurements, operators, never the decision-makers, in such areas as taxation and regulation designed, not by them, but by the legislative and executive branches. But even within the fair-tax and flat-tax groups, the smartest people in the rooms have remained silent. Too bad.