IRS on the Hot Seat
by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— Congressional testimony regarding the IRS scandal denying tax exempt status and harassing certain groups has been chilling. I hope all Americans take note and heed the lessons to learn.
Amazing, isn’t it, about humanity. We seem to need to learn and relearn the very same lessons over and over again. For the ten millionth time we need to learn tolerance, because political (or religious) passions of any stripe can lead to the door of government denying some American citizens their basic civil rights of freedom of expression and assembly.
I know something about intolerance. For almost 30 years I have expressed sometimes controversial opinions on page two of the Sentinel. I have been shunned, insulted, and even spurned for expressing my opinion. Well, so what? Anyone who expresses opinion gets plenty of such from some people and always will. But I experienced two incidents that were beyond the realm of intolerance and passing into the zone of intimidation.
Several years ago, before what are now known as “tea parties” emerged in this country, I had a whopper of a tax bill (which can happen, incidentally, to any American at any time because of our complex tax laws) and I complained about it (in this column) like every other hard-working, red-blooded American. On April 15, for the fun of it, big, bad me went down to Urbanna Creek and tossed a tea bag into Urbanna Creek.
Because this event was published in the Sentinel, a crowd of about 100 showed up. On that day it was pouring rain, and to this group I read a long list of all the taxes Americans had to pay in today’s world (the list is very, very long). I equated our high taxes we pay to our government today with great irony to the tiny stamp and paint taxes the British levied against the Colonists that once triggered the Revolutionary War. (The good news is now, at least, we pay our own government and not a foreign king, so that offers great measure of joy.)
A man in the crowd, a very tall man with an unpleasant expression implanted on his face as if he were permanently angry about something, videoed my entire speech. Who was it? Why did he do this? What was the ulterior motive? I don’t know, but I felt threatened by his presence and it affected the content of my supposedly “free speech.”
About six months later, official “Tea Party” groups began to spring up across the nation. I did not affiliate with them because I do not join political organizations, but I sympathized with them. It seemed to me they were concerned about Americans retaining individual freedoms in the midst of growing government. So am I.
Later that year I had “a call from the IRS” that asked me personal information about my taxes. I was greatly alarmed by the call. I do now believe it was a juvenile prank, but I still felt harassed and concerned that I was under special scrutiny. (In all fairness to the IRS, I want to state that I have never been audited.) Who called pretending to be the IRS and why?
As Congressional evidence now indicates, Tea Party groups and other patriotic or conservative associations that have requested special status have been singled out by the IRS and have been subjected to denial, delayed service or even harassment. One “book club” that wanted to collect political contributions from its members even had to provide a list of books it was reading to the IRS and then write book reports on each book as a part of getting approved!
Americans are now, thanks to an unusually partisan and divisive leader, a highly-polarized society. Passions run high between left and right elements in our society, to a level I have never seen before. In my view, this is tragic.
My question is this: Do our individual passions, intolerance, polarization and animosity directed to people who have differing opinions from our own lead to a government that thinks it can harass and suppress basic civil rights like freedom of expression and assembly of fellow Americans?
Over the last few years I have heard many fellow citizens espouse intolerance and dispersion against Tea Parties. I think this sentiment may have emboldened IRS actions. If the right were in control, the same sentiment against “progressive” or “community organizing” groups may trigger the same IRS behavior.
In my opinion, both the left and the right are equally dangerous to personal freedom. As a writer, I poke as much fun as I can at inflexibility and intolerance because both behaviors can nourish government that shuts down individual freedoms.
It’s time to remind ourselves once again to be tolerant. Hear it again: No one owns truth. We all have something to add to the great puzzle of life.