The current US controversy about the IRS targeting political groups obscures a number of important issues. First, using the IRS to target political groups – particularly liberal or leftist groups – has been the norm for much of the 20th and 21st centuries. Second, while the IRS actions are outrageous, whatever the groups’ political leanings, the waters have been muddied by the way various conservative groups have recently been exploiting the Supreme Court’s decision to allow open slather on corporate and other funding of political action campaigns. Third, the increasing lack of clarity and transparency in US election and campaign funding.
The last issue is significant for Australia with the probable election of an Abbott Government and its likely moves, in keeping with those of the Howard Government, to worsen the currently poor levels of transparency in political party funding. But while the money and donations flow in Australia they are not, and never will be, on the scale of the US where lobbying, political action campaigns, donations to Presidential candidates, Senators and Congressional members runs to the billions and make the US system probably the worst that money can buy. Allied with widespread Congressional gerrymandering it is hardly surprising that dysfunction in all things other than looking after vested interests in paramount.
The US Centre for Media and Democracy (www.prwatch.com) is a great source of information about all these developments – particularly the machinations of the secretive right wing Koch brothers who funded a variety of campaigns designed to defeat Barack Obama. They are now – having failed in that effort – gearing up to buy major media outlets along the lines of Gina Rinehart and Fairfax media. Essentially, of course, the effort aims to create views which suit them although the reality is that it is more about closing down differing voices. It is an indication of the shift in the centre of Australian political gravity, and the direction of the Murdoch media and talk radio, that Fairfax is considered left wing. The blog considers being really, really left wing is like the Keith Windschuttle embrace of Maoism all those years ago and his book Media Monopolies. Sadly Keith’s predictions that street theatre would replace the mainstream media never came to pass even if some would argue that Windschuttle, and perhaps Andrew Bolt as well, are a bit theatrical. (BTW: The blog knows that it has referred to Keith’s background many times in the past but given what Maoism involved and stood for it is probably important enough to mention whenever his name comes up.)
Arguably, of course, if the Kochs or Gina Rinehart were successful in media takeovers they would probably not only close down the differing voices but probably also result in the closure of the outlets. As Thorstein Veblen made clear, consumers choose the media they feel comfortable with and agree with rather than seeking out media to be informed by. The mainly liberal to left Fairfax readers would most probably simply stop being readers and the newly-owned media outlet would fail as it tried to cannibalise readers from the Murdoch readership market and the Fairfax’s own AFR.
Fortunately the IRS has not been that successful in closing down alternative voices either. As PR Watch makes clear Presidents FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, Nixon, Reagan and George W. Bush all urged the IRS to take action on dissident voices. Reagan did it with Mother Jones and George W. tried it with the NAACP. So the actions of a few low-level IRS staff in Cincinnati are only new in that they seem to have done it on their own initiative rather than at the urging of a Nixon, JFK or George W.
For more details on the IRS issue and the history of its political machinations the blog recommends: http://www.prwatch.org/news/2013/05/12109/ambiguity-tax-rules-and-disintegration-election-law-may-have-led-irs-tea-party-me and http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/05/irs-witch-hunts-tea-party-history-mother-jones
APOLOGIES: The blog had a few technical problems over the weekend and as a result access was either very difficult or impossible. The blog technical team has now kindly fixed it and problem should now disappear.