Bachmann: I worked at the IRS to learn how to defeat it

Michele Bachmann has a conundrum of sorts in her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination based on her support from the Tea Party, which not just opposes tax hikes in principle but many of which would like to eliminate the IRS altogether with either a Fair Tax or flat tax system. Bachmann worked for the IRS for about five years, suing tax evaders — which is a perfectly reasonable position, and eminently defensible even for those who don’t like the IRS much. Those who illegally evade their taxes under current law should be pursued, at least until the law is changed.

Bachmann offers another explanation for her time at the IRS:

We change the economy by changing the tax code. How many of you love the IRS? No! It’s time to change it. I went to work in that system because the first rule of war is ‘know your enemy.’ So I went to the inside to learn how they work because I wanted to beat them.

That asserts that Bachmann went to work for the IRS as a kind of research project, intending to find ways to dismantle it. In earlier stump speeches, however, Bachmann has said that it was her work at the IRS that led her to believe that the tax code needed reforming, not the other way around:

This part of her resume cuts two ways for Ms. Bachman, who ranks near the top of the GOP field in polls of New Hampshire and Iowa, where she campaigned over the weekend. She’s a favorite of the tea party, for whom the IRS personifies government overreach.

Ms. Bachmann, on the other hand, in her limited comments on the matter, says the experience formed her views on taxes.

According to her congressional website, it helped her understand first-hand the need to simplify the current tax code. Earlier this year, Ms. Bachmann voted for a measure that would strip $600 million from the IRS by October, including $285 million from its tax-enforcement budget. …

In stump speeches and interviews, Ms. Bachmann said her tax work helped lead her to the conclusion that the U.S. should “deep-six” the tax code and scrap taxes on inheritance and capital gains, stances that have made her a tea-party favorite.

Why the change?  Greg Sargent thinks it has to do with attacks from supporters of Ron Paul on her resume:

The tax collector business has been brought up on the Ron Paul forums by Paul supporters who are clearly irked that “Tea Party” candidates like Bachmann (and former Fed employee Herman Cain) are stealing grassroots attention from their preferred insurgent candidate. (“Bachmann was a tax prosecutor for the IRS – I can’t think of any professional less desirable to the tea party.”)

At the Paul-supporting Economic Policy Journal, Robert Wenzel writes:

But, there is a clear difference between Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann. While Dr. Paul early in his career practiced medicine and delivered thousands of babies.

Michelle Bachmann was a tax lawyer for the IRS and has a post-doctorate degree in Federal Tax Law. She has stated that she represented the IRS in hundreds of cases against American citizens.

I think Bachmann’s earlier explanation sufficed entirely.  If she’s worried about Tea Party response to her time at the IRS, it would be a good moment to remind people that we created the IRS and the laws it enforces, not Michele Bachmann or any of the other attorneys or bureaucrats that work there.  We can reduce or eliminate it, too, through comprehensive tax reform and common sense, and that she has a unique perspective on what needs to change.