WOW! Where do I begin? I guess at the start. Wait! Is that Gomer Pyle I hear? “Surprise! Surprise!
My first instinct was to ask Gomer what was so surprising? But I know the answer to that question. Even I was surprised that my wife went with me to see the movie. You may wonder why that is so surprising. First, like many Americans, she has little to no interest in things political, taxes or otherwise. Second, she is on the left end of the social-political scale and I told her this was likely a conservative diatribe. But she came with me and I appreciated that.
Anyway, there we were together with the thousands who mobbed cinemas around the country, eagerly hoping to get a seat in one of the many crowded theaters showing this one time release. OK, maybe not thousands. Perhaps not even hundreds. When Lauren and I walked into theater 12 at the Regal Henrietta Stadium 18 Cinema, we had a plethora of available seating options. Quickly we moved to an open seat and took our place with the other 6 patrons. Frankly, a part of me wondered if they were lost and had wandered into the wrong theater.
The nearly empty theater was one of my first disappointments. I believe the issue of tax reform to be so critical that it is the most important question of our time. The fact that so few Americans are interested enough to hear different views, even opinions as partisan as those expressed in this movie, saddens me.
For the first ten minutes or so we were treated to a variety of images, the American flag, the capital building, a cute little girl wearing a “Fair Tax” ball cap, etc. Overlaid on those images were various quotes alternating between those critical of the IRS and those promoting the Fair Tax. Then we were compelled to watch several minutes of advertisements for Fathom Events, the company that brings special events to big screens around the nation.
Finally, with pounding hearts and bated breath, my wife and I watched the intro to the movie.
It was not so much a detailed analysis of either the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as it was a not so subtle message that conservatism is the correct political view.
As a John Locke liberal, which frankly is more conservative than most neo-conservatives, the movie was unsatisfactory. This disappointment arose from so many feelings that I will not try to address all of them in this post.
Peter J Reilly posted yesterday regarding his intent to see the movie. In that well written article he wondered would the movie be a real exposé of the IRS or simply an infomercial for the Fair Tax. I look forward to his actual critique soon.
Nonetheless, his musing was relevant. In his article, he quoted Jonathan Schwartz of Interlock Media. In response to Reilly’s question, "How do you distinguish a documentary from an infomercial?” Schwartz replied, “It is propaganda if it is relentless preaching of a message with convenient and persuasive use of evocative images.”
Would anyone who did not see the movie like to take a guess at which it was?
Actually, in my view, it was neither. While it did ‘relentlessly preach a singular message’ I came away with a missive not so much in support of the Fair Tax as a feeling that I was somehow unpatriotic if I was not a conservative. Even more so if I was not a conservative who shared the identical conservative values espoused in the movie.
I guess if I had to choose between Reilly’s two options, I would describe the movie as an infomercial. But I don’t think it was very well done as such. However, as a propaganda piece promoting a specific conservative view, I thought it was exceptionally well done. Messages were well and clearly linked to particularly evocative images.
The movie compared the current administration to the Nazis. Like or hate the President, I think that was inappropriate. Images of goose stepping Chinese soldiers were effectively used. Tears shed when Veterans faced the demise of Veteran Support Organizations, organizations which, in many instances, are the only family a veteran has, tugged at heart strings.
And on and on it went, into the night.
There were a number of references to the IRS throughout the movie, but the focus was on seven specific instances. Only one of these directly affected an individual taxpayer, in this case, a couple who adopted a little girl from China. The other six involved IRS review and/or oversight of various conservative 501(c) organizations.
I was disappointed that more specifics were not provided in each instance. Many of the cases were closed, and the parties seemed willing to discuss the issues, but details were slim. To the extent that details were provided, or historical references given, there were more than a few errors. I laughed out loud when the narrator stated that, for the majority of our existence, we made it without the IRS. Yet the Federal agency we now call the Internal Revenue Service was actually created under the Revenue Act of 1862.
The single case involving the individual taxpayer revolved around an audit of that taxpayer. In this segment of the movie, the taxpayer complained about the treatment received by the IRS. Their complaint was apparently vindicated by an internal IRS review.
The couple was critical of the reasons behind the audit. They asserted that the IRS disclosed to them that they almost always audited returns claiming the adoption credit for international adoptions as they frequently constituted fraud. No details were provided and I was left with the idea that the taxpayer did owe money back to the IRS.
But my comments to this point do not get to the real reasons behind my disillusionment and deep disappointment.
I stand second to none in my criticism of the IRS. I have been seated across a table from a Revenue Agent who stated to my client, “I have your balls in my hand!” My client was not an acclaimed sports figure so I did not believe the Agent was referring to an item of sports paraphernalia. I won’t get into the details of the rest of that meeting other than to say that, when my client returned to the room, the Agent apologized.
More importantly, however, I stand second to none in my criticism of the underlying law that gives the IRS their seemingly unlimited power. That law is the Internal Revenue Code and it must be changed. One of the meta messages in the movie was just that: our tax code must be changed and must be changed now. Somehow, however, it got lost among the goose stepping images playing across the screen.
If Gomer were here now he would likely voice another of his well known clichés: “Oh, your goin straight to hell for that one!”
That very important message got lost during the movie, as it often does today in America, lost in vitriolic political debate.
The movie spent quite a few minutes on the scandal surrounding the IRS’ review of various conservative groups’ applications for 501(c) status. It then went on to decry one of the mitigating arguments offered by the administration, that the IRS targeted liberal groups as well. They ridiculed that defense, not because it was deserving of ridicule, which it was, but because the movie seemed intent on ridiculing this administration as much as the IRS.
Let me be clear. I believe the actions of the IRS as portrayed in these cases were deliberate. I believe they were politically motivated. Whether directed or not does not matter. I also believe that this type of abuse occurs under Republican and Democrat administrations.
In this respect, the producers could have offered examples of IRS abuses that occurred under President Nixon. This would have served to prove up the notion that the IRS is out of control. It would clearly demonstrate that this is not a liberal or conservative, a Republican or Democrat issue, but an American issue. They did not because to do so would have introduced a negative viewpoint of a conservative president.
Make no mistake, the IRS is out of control. Almost thirty years of dealing with this agency has demonstrated that fact clearly and convincingly. But the problem is not the IRS. Why does a Federal Agency even have such unlimited authority to decide what entities will or will not be supported by taxpayers? It has that authority because the IRC gives it to them.
We have to change the tax code! This is the one overarching political imperative we face as Americans.
The movie, UnFair: Exposing The IRS, did a poor job making that case. Regardless, it will likely be well received and acclaimed by those who already hold that view. It is just as likely that those who do not will be turned off by the movie. Hence my abiding disillusionment.
Thus I am now left alone with my thoughts. What do we do now? Where do we go from here?
I have an Excedrin headache. They used to number them in television advertisements. Perhaps mine is headache number 1040 (or 1120; or 1065: or 941; or 940; or….)
More on this and other important issues coming soon!