Paul L. Caron

Friday, May 15, 2009

Is Obama Ineligible to Work for the IRS?

From President Obama's Arizona State commencement address (at the 3:10 mark):

President Crowe and the Board of Regents will soon learn all about being audited by the IRS

See Pub. L. No. 105-206, § 1203, 112 Stat. 685 (1998); Boris I. Bittker & Lawrence Lokken, Federal Taxation of Income, Estates, and Gifts ¶ 110.1.6 (“[T]he Commissioner of Internal Revenue shall terminate the employment of any employee of the Internal Revenue Service if there is a final administrative or judicial determination that such employee … threaten[ed] to audit a taxpayer for the purpose of extracting personal gain or benefit.”).

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Tracked on May 18, 2009 6:56:35 AM


In addition to the 3 points Joe Strummer summarized so well above in responding to the original post, Mwalimu Daudi's comment above is even more, yes, laughable. If McCain or Bush had said this? Well, they did; they made jokes all the time, and yes, people overreacted all the time -- though no more and no less than the folks (and WSJ editorial pages) commenting on this joke. Bush made a whole video joking about his search for weapons of mass destruction (one of the several rationales for invading Iraq); he joked about being among the wealthiest Americans, "his base." He joked about how raising taxes on the rich backfires: "First of all, real rich people figure out how to dodge taxes." Even if the last two aren't firing offenses for an IRS employee, the first one would or should be for a DoD employee. But the president isn't an employee of any of these and, beyond that, when it's clearly a joke, then someone not hearing it as a joke is clearly a humorless dweeb. Ironically, by not recognizing this clearly as a joke, or seeing some kind of actual threat in it, makes you all the less likely to be taken seriously in other matters: if everything is deadly serious, then nothing really is.

Especially ridiculous is comparing Obama's joke to Nixon's actual use of the IRS for political purposes. This is like equating Mel Brooks to Adolf Hitler, just because the one created a comedy movie and musical that treated the other as an object of ridicule.

Posted by: DAB | May 19, 2009 8:48:33 AM

@Ed -- Barack Hussein Obama is a lawyer, but he is "[v]oluntarily retired and not authorized to practice law" in the State of Illinois (see That said, could a complaint still be filed against him?

Information regarding the complain process can be found at

Posted by: Jeff | May 16, 2009 5:19:52 PM

A tax law prof? You can't read the IRS publication very well, can you:

1) Obama is not an employee of the IRS.
2) This was a joke he made, not a threat.
3) Even if it was a threat, he didn't make it for personal gain or profit

Posted by: Joe Strummer | May 16, 2009 1:01:07 AM

I don't know which provides clearer evidence of the writer's feeble-mindedness: this blog post, or the commenter who notes that Obama "probably" meant it as a joke.

There's a third option, but I don't think you'd like it very much.

Posted by: Jim Treacher | May 15, 2009 9:48:37 PM

I thought we all understood that Democrats are allowed to act like thugs because they really mean well. Republicans are not even given credit for doing good things for the public because their hearts are not in the right place.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie | May 15, 2009 8:33:51 PM

President Obama presents an extremely grave threat to this nation. Thank you, dork communists.


Posted by: Punkindrublic | May 15, 2009 5:11:01 PM

Let's not forget that the Clinton Administration made a habit of sending auditors after its political enemies: the NRA, case in point.

This is the kind of statement that NO President should even be making in public, joke or not. It doesn't surprise me that Obama made it, nor that there are still people out there naieve enough to think that he's 'joking'.

Posted by: DaveP. | May 15, 2009 5:03:57 PM

I've never heard a President's commencement speech before; are they always this politicized? Seems like there would be more "ooh-rah-rah!" than talk about the burden of student loans and credit card debt.

Posted by: J S | May 15, 2009 3:44:27 PM

Who's going to call him on it? The department head who doesn't even pay his taxes? This game has no cops - just robbers.

Posted by: DamnCat | May 15, 2009 2:40:49 PM

Bilwick hits the nail on the head. Perfect analogy.

Posted by: FOD | May 15, 2009 2:24:40 PM

I don't know which provides clearer evidence of the writer's feeble-mindedness: this blog post, or the commenter who notes that Obama "probably" meant it as a joke.

Posted by: Srolf Divad | May 15, 2009 2:20:20 PM

Can you imagine the reaction if McCain or Bush had said something like this? Entire areas of the nation would be de-forested to make the paper to print the magazine and newspaper editorials shrieking about Republican "abuse of power" and the impending Christianist theocracy.

Some folks have already forgotten that Obama has already made good on similar threats in the past. The nationalizing of the automotive and banking industries along with the targeting of conservative talk radio hosts, Bush administation lawyers and Wall Street executives are just a few examples.

Posted by: Mwalimu Daudi | May 15, 2009 2:14:02 PM

"Nice university you have here; it would be a shame if anything happened to it."

Posted by: Chester White | May 15, 2009 2:02:26 PM

Um, is Barack a lawyer? Could this threat be grounds for a professional ethics complaint, a la Bill Clinton?

Posted by: Ed | May 15, 2009 1:23:36 PM

What job?! He's NEVER had a real job, except the kind the press gives him every day.

Posted by: Korla Pundit | May 15, 2009 12:39:18 PM

He probably meant it as a joke, but "Il Dufe" joking about a tax audit is kind of like a Joe Pesci character joking about whacking you. You laugh, but uneasily, and with a slight chill down your spine.

Posted by: Bilwick1 | May 15, 2009 12:05:33 PM

I'm no fan of our current President. This remark was clearly a moment of levity, and was not a threat. Of course, any good joke has an element of truth to it. What do the bondholders of Chrysler think about it after some of the threats that have been (allegedly) made against them about audits.

Posted by: Think38 | May 15, 2009 11:59:59 AM

Yes but IRS employees are expected to maintain a professional demeanor with all their interactions with the public. Obama won. So he doesn't have to do anything he doesn't want to for the next 4 years.

Posted by: simarilian | May 15, 2009 11:55:01 AM

I do agree that he has personalized issues in a very bad way (e.g., the Chrysler holdouts were very poorly treated), and he did laugh inappropriately to that malignant Wanda Sykes, but this was pretty clearly a joke to me.

Posted by: A Berman | May 15, 2009 11:23:21 AM

He would be fired from any job that requires strict accountability, in any number of areas.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot | May 15, 2009 11:08:06 AM

It says .. personal gain or benefit

POTUS Hope-n-Change does it for his friends & party

.. that's different.

Posted by: Neo | May 15, 2009 11:05:18 AM

Presumably Obama wasn't an "employee of the Internal Revenue Service" when he made the statement...

Posted by: bigbartha | May 15, 2009 7:04:45 AM