May 20, 2013 2:23PM

The Progressives’ Lynchpin: The IRS

Peter Beinart has a piece at the Daily Beast today – “Don’t Throw the IRS Under the Bus” – that has to be read to be believed. Drawing from a similar page‐​one story in yesterday’s New York Times, it’s one long apology for the IRS, an effort to explain away the scandal now before the nation as the product of a single, hopelessly overburdened “backwater” IRS unit.

Along the way, Beinart flags the usual suspects, especially the Supreme Court for its Citizens United decision. But his main aim is to encourage the president and his allies to hold firm:

if Obama and his fellow Democrats don’t rebut that narrative and defend the IRS, they’ll be surrendering crucial ground in the battle that has roiled American politics since the financial crisis: the battle over whether Washington regulates too much or too little.

Granting that the situation at the moment is a mess, Beinart avers that “it was a mess born less of overregulation than underregulation.” Indeed,

A right‐​wing Supreme Court has made it virtually impossible to regulate money in elections. And now Republicans are casting the Tea Party—a movement founded in part by robber barons like the Koch Brothers—as the victim of a mythic, all‐​powerful IRS in order to further neuter an actually existing IRS that is already too weak to make the rich pay their taxes or respect the rules of democratic fair play. With any luck, the GOP will render it unable to help competently implement Obamacare as well.

One only hopes. But it’s Beinart’s conclusion that brings it all home:

It might seem shrewd for Obama to sit out the IRS scandal while he focuses on bigger fights. But this scandal is about government’s capacity to make private wealth serve the public interest, and for a progressive president, there’s no bigger fight than that.

He’s got that right: for a progressive president, there is indeed no bigger fight than that. But focus on what that says. For the progressive, government’s purpose is “to make private wealth serve the public interest.” Make no mistake, “private wealth” means “private people,” people who must be made to serve not their own but “the public interest” – and not by acts that enrich the lives of others through voluntary association, but through forced association, as with Obamacare, designed by those very progressives.

That is the Obama vision. The president himself made it clear a fortnight ago in his Ohio State commencement address, telling the graduates that “this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition.” People must be “harnessed” – his word – and what better agency to do it than the IRS.