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M.D. Harmon: Governor LePage used the wrong word to express a justified outrage

Gov. Paul LePage has said he was sorry for his comment likening the Internal Revenue Service to the “Gestapo” (in the IRS’ new role as the collector of taxes owed in lieu of buying health insurance under Obamacare).

Since the history of the Geheime Staatspolizei (“Secret State Police”) is one of terror, blood and death using techniques of unspeakable horror in the service of a brutal tyranny, he had no choice but to backtrack on the specific reference.

Too many people are still around who suffered, or whose forebears suffered, at the hands of Hitler’s evil minions. Such people did not deserve to have their memories rubbed raw by such a reference.

Still, any reasonable person (by that I exclude the liberal critics always looking for a chance to pig pile on a conservative governor) can see that there’s no way in the world LePage, by all accounts a personally generous and caring man, meant a literal comparison between the often-abusive IRS and an agency of Nazism.

We’ll look at what might have justifiably riled him in a bit more detail, but first I want to explore some left-wing hypocrisy on the issue of brutal agents of dictatorships.

Recall that hypocrisy is not defined as “having high personal standards and then violating them due to human weakness.” As columnist Jonah Goldberg has often pointed out, if that were the case, the only people incapable of hypocrisy would be those who had no standards at all, since everyone who does profess them fails from time to time to live up to them.

That’s not hypocrisy, it’s our flawed human nature tripping us up. If you want examples, both the Bible and secular histories are full of descriptive accounts beginning at the dawn of time.

No, true hypocrisy is instead citing standards you don’t yourself believe in or practice, and then using them to berate others.

LePage was wrong to use the word he did, but he wasn’t wrong to try to find strong language to condemn what the Patient Deception and Unaffordable Care Act aims to do those who won’t ante up for its requirements for individual mandatory coverage.

True, the penalty payment starts off small, $695 for a single person when it reaches its currently scheduled maximum in 2016, but it will grow.

In the meantime, the only mechanism the law cites for its enforcement is to withhold it from tax rebates. Since that will let many off the hook entirely, expect that to be changed if the law endures past the next election.

In discussing the utter disingenuousness of liberal criticism of LePage, however, remember that the governor’s intent was to criticize an unjustifiable intrusion of state power into the lives of Americans.

Liberals are great defenders of “choice” when it involves wiping out the life of an unborn baby, but when it comes to deciding not to buy insurance, they’re happy to toss the whole idea overboard.

But there’s more. How many conservatives have you ever seen wearing those nearly-ubiquitous-on-college-campuses T-shirts with pictures of a wavy-locked Che Guevara wearing a beret with a red star?

None, I’ll bet. They’re worn exclusively either by naïve innocents or by solid leftists, without any criticism from people on that side of the partisan divide. And when they are worn intentionally, their intent is not to condemn this vicious, brutal, murdering Communist, but to celebrate him.

Indeed, in the history of tyrannies, the red star and the swastika are equivalent symbols. How many of our students are taught that far more people have died at the hands of Marxist regimes than Hitler came close to killing, even though his regime’s slaughters were many and merciless?

Lenin and Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot and Ho Chi Minh made him a piker, however, and people like Cuba’s Castro and agents like Guevara added the shed blood of their victims to the ocean of blood spilled in the name of communism all over the world.

Yet, no one but a neo-Nazi fanatic would be seen displaying a hakenkreuz, Hitler’s “crooked cross” (which actually was an ancient Hindu and Buddhist symbol appropriated by him to denote supposed “Aryan racial purity”).

But red stars and Che romanticism abound on Americans’ chests to this day, perhaps through ignorance for many, but for some as symbols of an historic creed they secretly (or perhaps not so secretly) admire.

Thus, it is pure hypocrisy to call LePage names for going overboard with a word he intended as a condemnation, when they themselves are silent about — or even supportive of — symbols and figures whose record is steeped in the blood of innocents by the multiple tens of millions.

Let’s move on to the question of the IRS and the tax code itself, and whether LePage was right to say its excesses were enough to make you “angry.”

Ten years ago, the libertarian Cato Institute listed “Top Ten Civil Liberties Abuses of the Income Tax,” and they are still as true today as they were then (hat tip to Norm Linnell for informing me about this). The full article is worth searching for to read in its entirety, but here are some “lowlights”:

— The code violates the equal protection of the law by both “vertical” and “horizontal” inequity, taxing people with different incomes at different rates and then, due to a variety of exemptions and exclusions, also taxing many people with the same incomes at different rates.

— The tax code is also “complex, ambiguous and uncertain,” to the point where those seeking advice from the IRS itself about its strictures can often get incorrect or conflicting advice. Also, it is “unstable,” changing from year to year as Congress and the president tweak it to favor some and disfavor others.

— Taxpayers are denied due process, forced into administrative proceedings without a jury trial until a long and expensive appeals process is exhausted; they give up any rights of privacy and are compelled to disclose personal information that may be shared among many agencies; they bear the burden of proving their innocence when their accusers say they have violated the code; they are subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures when their assets are confiscated in advance of court judgments, often leaving them without resources to live on; and they are forced to incriminate themselves by providing potentially damaging data to the IRS under penalty of perjury.

Now, not all this is the IRS’ fault. Congress sets the code’s provisions, although there’s no doubt the IRS is punctilious about enforcing it even on those who ability to understand or live up to all its thousands upon thousands of provisions is extremely limited.

Is that enough to make someone angry? One might instead wonder why more people are not outraged.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer. He can be contacted at: mdharmoncol@yahoo.com