On first looking into Chapman’s Nixon

Our friends at RealClearPolitics have posted Steve Chapman’s Chicago Tribune column “The false Nixon equivalence.” It addresses the subject I took up in “Nixon’s IRS” and, more broadly, in “A Watergate footnote.”

Chapman makes the case that comparisons of Obama with Nixon in the matter of the current IRS scandal are misguided. I think the comparison is useful. The outrages committed by the IRS under Obama in the past few years have just begun to come to light. It is way too early to absolve Obama of responsibility, and his lawyerly denial of knowledge last week of the Inspector General’s report (as opposed to the abuses themselves) ought to raise your eyebrows if you’re paying attention. At the least, I think the comparisons of Obama with Nixon in the case of the IRS lead to a better understanding of the outrages that have come to light.

In my post on Nixon’s purported abuse of the IRS I pointed out the futility of Nixon’s efforts. Nixon’s desire to harass his political enemies through the IRS went unrequited. You have to read Chapman’s column closely to see that he confirms this point in every jot and tittle, though I’m not sure he understands it.

Chapman simply quotes Nixon’s colorful private statements seeking to harass his opponents via the IRS. Nixon’s efforts, however, went approximately nowhere, and Nixon vowed to make headway in his second term. In his second term, IRS Commissioner Donald Alexander refused to execute Nixon’s wishes. Nixon’s failures with the IRS are almost funny. Here is Chapman:

On multiple occasions, at the behest of the president or his top aides, the IRS was told to audit individuals whose activities created dissatisfaction in the Oval Office.

The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Lawrence O’Brien, got special attention. One of Nixon’s top aides called the commissioner of the IRS and demanded action, hoping to “send him to jail before the elections.” Nixon ordered investigations of Democrats who might run against him.

So how did it go? Chapman doesn’t say.

Chapman contrasts Nixon speaking in private expressing his desire to misuse the IRS with Obama’s public condemnation of the IRS abuses that have just come to light. This is fatuous. Does Chapman suppose that Nixon would have spoken the same in public as he did in private? He would have proclaimed the IRS an “independent agency” just as Obama (falsely) did last week. We have no idea what Obama has said in private regarding the IRS abuses that served him so well. Yet Chapman gives every indication of thinking this is serous analysis. Is this some kind of a joke?

Nixon and his henchmen fruitlessly desired the IRS to “screw” their political opponents. Their efforts were a pathetic failure. It was a case of unrequited hatred. Chapman omits the explanation of Nixon henchman Jack Caulfield, who astutely complained that the IRS was a “monstrous bureaucracy…dominated and controlled by Democrats.” Caulfield was on to something.

By contrast with Nixon’s failures to misuse the IRS, the IRS has very effectively “screwed” Obama’s political opponents, and we have yet to learn what the president knew and when he knew it. Chapman finds those of us who make the comparison (or contrast) of Nixon with Obama as guilty of thought crime, but the comparison is illuminating for anyone with eyes to see.