As we watch a string of scandals detonate across the Obama Administration, we should all be able to agree that the abuse of government power to punish political opposition is hideously wrong. Sometimes we struggle to define the precise boundaries of “corruption,” as a growing government extends its power into the private sector, and the daily conduct of its business becomes inherently corrupt. Special interests swarm around the Leviathan State like remora fish around a shark. Everyone is either getting punished or subsidized by the government. Political connections become the most valuable economic resource. (If only President Obama’s cronies in the “green energy” racket had been given half the scrutiny this Administration directed at Tea Party groups, imagine how much money taxpayers would have saved!)
The ruling class reaches the apex of its power when it no longer has to tax and spend money to promote its agenda, or even deploy coercive regulations that could be traced back to particular administrators; instead, the ruling class need only express its desires, and those eager to curry favor will scramble to obey. For an example, watch the unfolding scandal around Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ efforts to squeeze money out of the industries she regulates.
But even in that thick stew of corruption – as competition under the impartial rule of law is replaced by a struggle to win the zero-sum affections of the State – we can easily see that government itself is the greatest “special interest” of all. When politicians and bureaucrats abuse power to protect themselves, we should recoil in disgust. There are right and wrong ways for politicians to win support, but there is no “good” way for them to punish opposition.
This disgust grows particularly acute when the Internal Revenue Service is corrupted. We are obliged to place a great deal of faith in the IRS. The agency carries an extraordinary burden of public trust.