Once a month, when my busy schedule of distractions allows, I attend a meeting of fellows who are concerned about the state of the country and like beer. It is sort of a men’s book club — sort of, because its members take pains not to read any of the suggested books.
The group’s members meet for dinner at a Pittsburgh tavern. Most are politically conservative, but — to their credit — they like a few liberal voices in their midst.
Last week, I was the duty agent provocateur, or, as we say in America, jerk. Bill, the group’s founder, was discussing the evils of the Obama administration. He holds it responsible for every bad thing in the world, I think — but on this night the subject was the Internal Revenue Service targeting the tea party and like-minded groups for special scrutiny.
It would have been easy to agree with Bill, because the IRS did screw up. Further, its cause was not helped when Lois Lerner, director of its tax-exempt organization division, told a House committee she’d done nothing wrong but needed to exercise her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by not testifying about the nonwrongdoing.
But agreeing with Bill is a certain way to spoil the fun. Besides, while the IRS move was wrong, it wasn’t without a certain logic.
Besides, condemning the Obama administration over this incident rests on dubious assumptions. First, that Barack Obama is a very bad man and his administration is the most political ever seen (and apparently different from his predecessor, the one whom it is no longer politically correct to name — he had no politics at all and that Dick Cheney was just a figment of our imaginations).
Therefore, the idea that this scandal was limited to one office in Cincinnati can be discounted and we can assume a political motive and proceed to call this the worst scandal since Nero fiddled while Rome burned and then blamed it on the fire department for stopping to listen.
For those of you with a mathematical bent, this can be expressed as a crude equation: Bad president + bad IRS = politically motivated attack on patriots with the result of bad stuff hitting the fan.
Unfortunately, life is not easily reduced to simple mathematical formulas. So I asked the fraternity of fine fellows at the tavern table: If you were the IRS, and it was your duty to examine whether certain organizations qualified for tax exemption, would it be logical to look at people who hate taxes with a passion and have made their hatred highly public?
They were momentarily speechless, but the answer is: Of course. You can come up with all the political theories you like, but the wisdom of the angler remains: The place to fish is where the fish are.
As some low murmuring and nervous fiddling with the potato chips broke out, one in the group saw the weakness inherent in my argument. “Profiling! Profiling! Reg is profiling!” He chortled, having caught a known liberal in his hypocrisy.
Yes, but we exposed hypocrites are cunning. You are absolutely right, I admitted. What the IRS did was a type of profiling — but let us examine the usual sort of profiling.
Imagine this: A tall, bearded man is at the security gate at the airport. Although he looks suspicious, the agents single out a little old nun, or a tiny cute kid holding a cloth bunny (pick your own shocking example). We have often heard the outrage that greets such stories because logic and common sense seem to have been banished.
Let’s face it: Many of the people who would search the man with the beard are conservative by nature. And that puts them in the odd position of being for profiling by the TSA agents but against it by IRS agents.
Just to make it more interesting, please note that in my made-up scenario the man with the beard is Amish and entirely innocent. Further, the little old nun is the terrorist (not that there’s an order of exploding nuns). No, nuns are good, but terrorists are bad, and if only men in beards are searched, the bad guys will send fake nuns.
That in a nutshell is what is wrong with profiling at airports and by the IRS both. It goes to show that theories that are too cliched and need more thought (beer helps). Bill, of course, bought none of this. Because he’s my friend, now I will have to read one of the suggested books as a penance.
Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.