Five Best Thursday Columns

Sheila Krumholz on the real IRS scandal, Anne Taylor Fleming on Angelina Jolie's choice, Danielle Charette on divestment talks at Swarthmore College, Daniel Larison on justifying U.S. intervention in Syria, Charles M. Blow on D.C.'s scandal lust.

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Sheila Krumholz and Robert Weinberger in The New York Times on the real IRS scandal The duo from the Center for Responsive Politics assess the long-term impact of the improper audits conducted by IRS personnel on conservative groups. "It's unfortunate and unacceptable that these groups may have received more scrutiny and suspicion than they deserved — the I.R.S. reportedly even asked what books their leaders were reading," the pair write. "But even more regrettable is the long-term damage to the credibility of the I.R.S. as an impartial arbiter of whether organizations merit tax-exempt status. This will be difficult to undo, particularly because of the secrecy required for the agency to effectively examine organizations without generating doubts about them, as well as to prevent other organizations from coming up with strategies to evade scrutiny in the future." They continue: "With the surge of dark money into politics, we need to ensure that the I.R.S. is capable of rigorously enforcing the law in a nonpartisan, but also more effective, way. While we focus on the rickety raft of minor Tea Party groups targeted by the I.R.S., there is an entire fleet of big spenders that are operating with apparent impunity." Charles C.W. Cooke at National Review, meanwhile, wonders why the IRS gets a pass where the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security did not: "Why is the IRS less worrying to the Left than is the DHS? Especially in light of this abuse, why is the ACLU not calling for the creation of a tax system that does not require individuals casually to share so much private information with the state? ... As a matter of course, I am required annually to hand over a great deal of my personal information to the state, not because I have done anything wrong but as a condition of my existing and earning a living."

Anne Taylor Fleming at Reuters on Angelina Jolie's choice Angelina Jolie contains multitudes, says Anne Taylor Fleming, and demonstrates the power of female agency in a world that remains hostile to women. "Here is a woman taking charge," she begins. "What a relief at a time when the stories we hear are full of the other, women being victimized in the armed services — thousands and thousands of them even, sometimes, in a sick turn, by the very men supposed to be in charge of investigating abuse in the military. Not to mention the vile brute in Cleveland, Ohio, who held those three young women prisoner for a decade, during which he repeatedly raped then, impregnating them and then beating and starving them until they miscarried." She goes on: "Stirring then to open the paper and see the brave, bold words from a Hollywood icon, somebody flipping the switch, a woman refusing to be a victim, refusing to live in fear with a sword of Damocles hanging over her head. ... I am struck by how hard that is — especially, still, for women. Hard to say, this is what I am doing, this is who I am. Judge me or judge me not." Maureen O'Connor at The Cut added, "When the world's most famous actress advocates for preventive women's medicine, the message goes far. ... You can be a normal woman without natural breasts. You can be a normal woman with no breasts at all."

Danielle Charette in The Wall Street Journal on divestment talks at Swarthmore College Swarthmore junior Danielle Charette surveys recent divestment talks at her prestigious liberal arts college just outside of Philadelphia: "I suspect that the Quakers who founded the school in 1864—and prized tolerance above all—wouldn't recognize the Swarthmore where I am currently a junior. ... On May 4, the school scheduled an open board meeting on the divestment initiative so that the opinions of board members, faculty, administrators and students would receive a fair hearing. ... What the board didn't realize was that ... students were positioning themselves to grab the microphone and disrupt the proceedings. ... About 10 minutes after the takeover, I stood up and reminded the protesters that other members of the college were there to hear various perspectives. But rather than listen to what I had to say, the students began to shout and clap in unison, drowning out what I was saying." Charette points to a video of what happened, and the subsequent online reaction: "peers have derided me on blogs and Facebook. One accused me of 'pernicious, destructive, far-reaching silencing.' They give me far too much credit: I'm an English major who wants Swarthmore to be a place where ideas are freely exchanged." Stanley Kurtz at National Review singled out Swarthmore President Rebecca Chopp, who defended the demonstration: "[Chopp] claims to be listening to all voices, when in fact she has collaborated in the forceful silencing of conservative students. She confuses Quaker tolerance and nonviolence with inaction and the surrender of core liberal principle."

Daniel Larison at The Week on justifying U.S. intervention in Syria There's zero justification for a U.S.-led Syrian military intervention, argues Daniel Larison. "There is still little chance that the Obama administration will commit the U.S. to a new war in the region," he begins. "That's a good thing. Still, that there is any chance is a measure of how obsessed with trying to direct and 'shape' events on the other side of the world many American pundits and politicians are. If the last 12 years of war should have taught Americans anything, it is that other nations are not interested in being 'shaped' or 'built' by us, and that we are remarkably unsuited to the task of refashioning the political order of countries that we don't understand very well." And later: "The U.S. must resist the urge to wade deeper into a conflict that secures no U.S. interests, especially when intervention would in all likelihood make the conflict more destructive and destabilizing than it already is." Meghan L. O’Sullivan at Bloomberg View disagrees. She highlights the message such an intervention would send to Iran: "A more aggressive U.S. response to proof of [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's] chemical-weapons use may be more likely to defuse the prospects of a regional conflict, in part by swaying Iran to rethink its nuclear ambitions." She continues: "In forcing the Iranians to re-evaluate the assumption that American threats of force are hollow, limited air strikes on Syria in response to proven chemical weapons use could lead to a more engaged and compliant Iran at the negotiating table. Ultimately, the use of a little force in Syria now could save the U.S. and its allies from having to use force on a much grander scale in Iran down the road."

Charles M. Blow in The New York Times on D.C.'s scandal lust "I have watched in recent days as a parade of conservatives have used specific and real governmental missteps to justify their wide-ranging paranoia and irrational hostilities," writes Charles M. Blow, discussing a trio of scandals compelling statements and actions by the White House. "... You have to take their glee in sorrow with a grain of salt. For them this is more about their scandal lust than what’s scandalous. These people have been searching for a scandal — Kenyan birth certificates and a Michelle Obama “whitey” tape — for years. The fact that they now have something solid and not made of sand is going to make sad souls happy. That’s to be expected. What’s not to be expected — but has become depressingly predictable — is to watch liberals rending their garments and gnashing their teeth in woe-is-us doom chanting. The overreaction is exhausting and embarrassing." Jonathan Chait at New York blames the media's thirst for scandal: "Reporters like Ben Smith, John Harris, and Alexander Burns have heroically attempted to justify lumping these incidents together as 'scandals' with the common theme of dangerous big government overreach. One could no less persuasively lump them into the 'narrative' of government employees making good-faith efforts to undertake difficult judgments in the face of implacable partisan opposition exploiting raging paranoia. The task for Obama is to disentangle the various stories, to break them down into individual, fact-based questions rather than nebulous accusations."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.