January 17, 2004

Comments Transcripts

I seem to be spending a great deal of time in comments today so I thought I'd transcribe some of it for my own audience.

City Comforts Blog has a rather discouraging article on The Nature Conservancy's recent run in with the tax laws. It seems the Washington Post ran a series about shady and slipshod practices at TNC which led to reforms. The IRS is piling on to see whether these past practices led to any tax liability. They're only going through 2002 returns so it isn't as bad as it could be but TNC is so big that the IRS decided that they would ship over an audit team to work onsite.

David Sucher's analysis was that while any lawbreaking should be punished, the Republican mad dogs have been loosed and that TNC was some sort of crypto-Republican effort that was being purged because it was too decent an organization. Thomas was first up with commentary which can be summarized by his last sentence "You've become deranged, I'm afraid. "

I shot two rounds of comments, which follow:

Sorry, I'm inclined to agree with Thomas. You started the intemperateness with the title. Was it really necessary to label these people "mad dogs"? Dehumanization of your political opponents over tax law is just not justified.

Furthermore, there is something of a history here dating back to the Clintons that people on the right need to watch out for. The Clinton administration was accused (and statistical analysis of nonprofit audits provides prima facie support to the accusation) of using the tax code to 'get' conservative nonprofits. The black joke at the time was made up of polite inquiries of whether a major anti-Clinton broadside had produced an audit inquiry yet. Too often, the response was either yes, or that an audit had just been completed.

The responsible right needs to keep a watch out that this doesn't descend into tit for tat misuse during the Bush administration. By using such incendiary terms, you are encouraging a 'closing of the ranks'. That's, at the very least, unfortunate and not helpful to maintaining a civil society. By giving political cover to those who would like to launch tit for tat strikes, it would be proper, in my opinion, to characterize it as deranged, if only mildly so.

The second article giving details seems to lay out a case where the Washington Post (that right wing bastion of conservativism? Hah!) investigated and uncovered wrongdoing by The Nature Conservatory. TNC fessed up and changed its practices, and now the IRS is seeing whether there's any tax liability to go along with that. This seems an easy slam dunk as the public admissions by TNC make the chances of hitting a dry hole much lower than a random audit.

The relevant question is whether this is tit for tat or legitimate business as usual for the IRS auditing team. Injecting dubious accusations that TNC is a Republican organization (as if there weren't Democrat oriented corporate boards, yeah right) and that Republicans are on a quest to eliminate any decency that might have crept into their party is insulting and offensive.

The fact is that both major political parties have their decent members and their scoundrels. Your act of dipping into the gutter to sling mud does not help the decent in their fight against the scoundrels in either party.

David Sucher persisted in the error of his ways and Thomas descended a bit as well, stating that "It's not the Republican party that is losing its last vestige of decency, but you losing your last vestige of sanity."

I chimed in:

This is the kind of mean spiritedness that makes crossing partisan boundaries hard, Thomas. Don't dive right after him into the gutter. Talking about his "last vestiges of sanity" just wasn't called for.

On the other hand, the idea is usually that at least some sort of evidence of wrongdoing before it is appropriate to accuse someone, even criminals. That TNC apparently has stepped in some financial dog poop does not automatically make their audit a Republican plot or any relevant statement on Republican leadership decency.

There is a delicate balance of instilling a higher level of decency, honor, and civic discourse in a free society's polity. It is largely one of omission, where each side avoids taking cheap shots at the other side while trying to policy your own side of the foamers who would drag everybody down into the gutter.

As far as I know, there are no calls for widespread audits of left-wing oriented NGOs because of the lack of decency, honor, or honesty in that part of the ideological spectrum and if there were, I would expect such intemperate talk to be put down hard from within the elite arbiters of opinion within the right itself.

There is something of a moral obligation to lever yourself out of the gutter if the other side is making visible efforts to do so. Those who ignore that moral obligation usually get hammered for it electorally so there's practical teeth to the custom.

You also may consider the reputation of new urbanism as something of a lefty cause. Do you really want to reinforce that perception? Do you really want to associate it with the sort of down-market leftism that is so unsupportedly conspiratorial?

Frankly, I think that new urbanism is a worthy ideal that is completely compatible with a conservative or libertarian world view. It's one of those worthy things that redeem the left and need to be appropriated as soon as possible to avoid my own side falling behind in the race to appropriate those who care about the built environment.

Posted by TMLutas at January 17, 2004 01:58 PM