UPDATE - September 23, 2014
The recent Ken Burns PBS documentary about the Roosevelts has drawn attention once more to the most influential Democrat president in modern times. Geoffrey Ward, who wrote the dialogue for the 14 hour program, played it safe and made sure that viewers would continue treating Franklin Roosevelt as a hero. Actions that reflected well on Roosevelt were given prominence, while actions that where harmful, such as Roosevelt's programs to fight the depression were whitewashed or ignored.
The I.R.S. has made headlines for targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny solely based on their opposing ideology. Roosevelt's abuse of I.R.S. powers was much worse. Given this repetition of history, it would make sense to include this part of Roosevelt's story. But since it reflects poorly on Roosevelt and would be a reminder of Obama's I.R.S. scandal, it was totally ignored.
When Roosevelt became president, the I.R.S. was only 20 years old. Roosevelt decided that using the I.R.S. to go after (or not go after) his friends and enemies was a legitimate use of government power.
Louisiana Senator Huey Long was a Roosevelt opponent. He got investigated by the I.R.S. Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst opposed FDR so he got investigated by the I.R.S. Father Charles Coughlin, a priest with a popular national radio program was critical of FDR, so he also was investigated by the I.R.S. Roosevelt was embarrassed that the congressman who represented his home New York district was a Republican so he sent the I.R.S. to audit Hamilton Fish. Fish challenged the IRS in court and won.
Reigning in the I.R.S. was just as much a political tool for FDR. Frank Hague, mayor of Jersey City was widely reported to be mishandling government funds, but he was an FDR supporter who delivered key votes in his area that resulted in New Jersey switching from Republican support to Democrat support. When reports of misconduct got too big to ignore, FDR ordered the I.R.S. to look the other way. Roosevelt's support for his political friends prevented a young Lyndon B. Johnson from being investigated by the I.R.S. for failing to properly report income.
The Great Depression went on for a full decade, most of it while Roosevelt was president. FDR's propensity to use the I.R.S. to go after his enemies did nothing to help the country recover and no doubt made things worse, since people who could make better choices than Roosevelt were scared into towing the line or else face the wrath of the I.R.S.
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