Karl Marx once said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

Marx was wrong about almost everything, but maybe he had a point on this. We now find ourselves in the farcial fourth term of Richard Nixon.

Do I exaggerate? Here’s the messed up part: not all that much.

You be the judge.

In Operation Fast and Furious the administration – I am not making this up – allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug lords and disappear. The guns wound up being used to kill at least one American border patrol agent and countless Mexican citizens.  What this was supposed to accomplish is, it is fair to say, a real stumper.

An initial claim that no one in the upper reaches of the Justice Department knew of this breathtakingly stupid scheme was later said to be "not false" but "inaccurate," bringing to mind Nixon Press Secretary Ron Ziegler’s famous observation that those administration statements revealed to be lies were "no longer operative."

Nixon was said to have created the Imperial Presidency and Obama also seems a bit impatient with ponderous  things like the democratic process or the rule of law. He justified illegal recess appointments and unwarranted rule-making with the excuse that "we can’t wait" for Congress to see things his way, recalling Nixon’s statement to David Frost that "[w]hen the President does it, that means that it's not illegal."

Hillary Clinton shrugged off concerns about Benghazi with the throw-away "What does it matter?" – not unlike the Nixon administration’s initially dismissal of Watergate as a "third-rate burglary."

Now we hear that the IRS has been targetting tea party and other conservative non-profits.  Nixon, of course, had his "enemies list" although not much ever happened to anyone on the list. The Obama administration really did subject conservative groups to politically motivated and illegal harassment.

The familiar Nixonian dissembling – couched in what William Schneider has called the "past exonerative tense" - has already begun. "Mistakes were made." We are to believe that this was all the work of "line workers" - little people who decided to break the law on spec without direction from higher ups.

But don’t worry, we are told, even these misbegotten and insignificant worker bees were not acting for political purpose. That they just happened to go after groups associated with a movement that had just clobbered the boss in the 2010 midterms is one of those crazy, crazy things. You know, we’ll all laugh about this one day.

Apologies are now forthcoming. Using the power of the federal government to go after the President’s political opponents is admitted to be – wait for it - "inappropriate." Just as, I suppose, Nixon’s dirty tricks were "ill-advised."

These belated admissions are reminiscent of Nixon’s famous "limited, modified hangout" in 1973. While the IRS knew what was going on as early as 2011 and apparently continued the program throughout 2012, it has finally apologized for this astonishing misuse of power in 2013 after the President has been safely re-elected.

But we are not to worry because, just as he didn’t know about Fast and Furious and was sleeping during the siege of Benghazi, the greatest President since Lincoln didn’t know what was going on in his name.

I can’t help but remember David Frye’s old impression of Nixon. Frye’s Nixon admitted that he was "responsible" but not "to blame" – "because people who are to blame lose their jobs while those who are responsible do not."

Here’s the reality. For better or worse, nonprofit advocacy organizations – some who engage in limited political activity (501(c)(4) groups) and some who do not advocate for or against candidates for public office (501(c)(3) organizations) – have become an important part of our public discourse about issues and ideas.

The power to tax is the power to destroy and, in a free society, those who exercise it must act with scrupulous neutrality that is beyond reproach. That the IRS failed to do so is not merely "inappropriate" and it is not a "mistake." It is a shocking breach of the public trust and an inexcusable abuse of power.

Nixon was a tragic figure – a talented man who was determined to exact revenge on those elite circles who resented his rise to power.

Obama, on the other hand, is the darling of the chattering classes. I am sure that he and his folks didn’t set out to reprise Nixon and company, but they are getting uncomfortably close, acting as if they are above the rules as self-righteousness degenerates into unqualified self justification.

This administration is increasingly like John Randolph’s famous description of a dead mackerel in the moonlight.

It both shines and stinks. 


Rick Esenberg, a RightWisconsin contributor, is the founder and current President and General Counsel of theWisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty