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Some people just can't tell good IRS jokes

May 18, 2009

Sometimes even the best joke is out of place when told by the wrong person. A trial judge probably shouldn't indulge in electric chair humor from the bench. Layoff humor is unwise for CEOs of struggling companies. And whole classes of professions should stay away from the rich vein of death humor.

President Obama jokingly said he would have the IRS audit the Arizona State University board of trustees after they failed to vote him an honorary degree. Not everybody appreciated the joke:

Made by Jay Leno it might have been funny. But as told by Mr. Obama, the actual president of the United States, it's hard to see the humor. Surely he's aware that other presidents, most notably Richard Nixon, have abused the power of the Internal Revenue Service to harass their political opponents.

Of course, Nixon was a piker compared to a President considered a role model for the current one:

One of the most brazen instances of a political vendetta during a Presidency was the Roosevelt Administration's attack on Andrew Mellon. No historian has been able to determine why Mellon so enraged F.D.R., but there is speculation that the New Deal President saw the millionaire who served as Republican Treasury Secretary from 1921 to 1932 - a time of Wall Street excesses followed by the Great Depression - as the symbolic enemy. Nor has a document emerged that directly links Roosevelt to the decision to go after Mellon.

Elmer L. Irey, head of the criminal division of the Treasury's tax enforcement branch in Washington from 1919 to 1946, acknowledged in his 1948 autobiography that Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. ordered him to develop tax charges against Mellon even though he, Irey, knew that the former Treasury Secretary was innocent.

The world could use more humor, but President Roosevelt probably spoiled the IRS audit joke catalog for his successors.

Additional coverage:

Peter Pappas
The TaxProf

And more from Althouse, with a good comment discussion.

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Can you believe I'm still posting comments?
It wasn't a funny joke. The funny part is the outrage and the comparison between Reagan joking about nuking people (killing millions), and this audit joke.
I had no idea the level of angry people are at about Obama being president, but this "controversy" shed some light on that for me.
Plus I thought the conservative mantra was "if you're not doing anything wrong, you should have no problem giving up your liberties" or some such thing.

Stephanie, this would be a much more (even more? Is that possible?) boring place without your comments.

I'm not very upset about the Obama IRS joke -- it's one I can see the humor in. Given the history of Presidents using the IRS for political purposes, though, he probably should stay away from that sort of joke.

As far as your cartoon image of conservatives -- you miss entirely the deep libertarian streak on the right. I also think you underestimate the bossy, coercive instincts of the left, unless you've tried to smoke in a bar lately.


Lighten up.

For 8 years we've had to endure the left calling Bush a war criminal, Hitler (except not as smart), a chimp, a liar, stupid, dumb, illiterate, dyslexic and evil.

You guys even made a fantasy movie about his assassination.

For people who were "outraged" at Bush's smirk, his gait and his working vacations, ironically it seems left wingers have been cursed with epidurmises about as thick as sausage casing.

There has been no "outrage" over Obama's ASU tax audit comment. Everyone knows it was a joke.

We're just joking back.

By the way, we aren't angry that Obama is President, we're just angry that he's using a credit card sans limit and our kids and grandkids will have to foot the bill.

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