Monday, May 18, 2009

Tax Audits Are No Laughing Matter

Hey, nothing wrong with Obama going for a few laughs but when it comes to IRS audits, well, that's different:
At his Arizona State University commencement speech last Wednesday, Mr. Obama noted that ASU had refused to grant him an honorary degree, citing his lack of experience, and the controversy this had caused. He then demonstrated ASU's point by remarking, "I really thought this was much ado about nothing, but I do think we all learned an important lesson. I learned never again to pick another team over the Sun Devils in my NCAA brackets. . . . President [Michael] Crowe and the Board of Regents will soon learn all about being audited by the IRS."

Just a joke about the power of the presidency. Made by Jay Leno it might have been funny. But as told by Mr. Obama, the actual president of the United States, it's hard to see the humor. Surely he's aware that other presidents, most notably Richard Nixon, have abused the power of the Internal Revenue Service to harass their political opponents. But that abuse generated a powerful backlash and with good reason. Should the IRS come to be seen as just a bunch of enforcers for whoever is in political power, the result would be an enormous loss of legitimacy for the tax system.

This hits especially close because when I was an employee, if I were to joke about having someone audited, Inspection could open a file and investigate and my job would be at risk. Just a humorless tax agency? Hardly. They take their abuse of power - even the appearance of abuse - quite seriously. And, as Reynolds points out, this kind of joshing about shakes the faith the public may have in the institution. Not that it isn't tarnished already, being lead by an admitted tax cheat, but that's the subject of another post.

Obama can be a funny guy - though I've noticed he seems lack a self-deprecating sense of humor. Maybe it's time someone put some other jokes on the teleprompter.

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