As much as liberals would wish it otherwise, Joe Stack, the fellow who flew his plane into an IRS building in Austin, TX, was no right-wing nutcase.

And despite the fervent prayers of right-wing ranters, neither was he a leftist space cadet.

He was instead a full-service, equal-opportunity misanthrope. He hated everything. Banks, governments, Catholics, corporations, accountants, politicians and the IRS–especially the IRS–were all targets of his vitriol in the five-page suicide “note” he left behind.

He wrote the missive, set fire to his home, then got in his plane and flew it into a building that housed the IRS in Austin, killing at least one person, injuring others, and reducing the building to a lot of broken glass.

A last posting on his website ended with the message:

“The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

“The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.”

Does that sound right-wing to you? I don’t think so.

And liberals don’t go around blowing up buildings. They stage ineffectual protests that inspire the police to beat them senseless.

Forget the left/right argument. Stack was missing a few arrows from his quiver, like Tim McVeigh the Oklahoma City bomber, Ted Kaczynski the Unabomber, and that professor who, after being denied tenure (at the University of Alabama at Huntsville) shot up a faculty meeting, killing three colleagues. Stack’s daughter, by the way, has since said she is proud of her father, thus demonstrating that the nut does not fall far from the tree.

That said, Stack did have a legitimate beef with the government and it goes to the heart of the right-wing argument against “Big Government.”

Stack wrote about having his career as a software engineer stifled by a tax that, according to The New York Times, made it all but impossible for information technology professionals to work independently. It was intended as an offset to a tax break given to IBM.

When it failed to work as advertised, its chief sponsor in the Senate, New York’s Daniel Moynihan, tried to get it rolled back–to no avail. Over the next decade, as many as 70 senators tried to get it repealed–without success. The argument was: “If we did it for them, we’d have to do it for everybody.”

There’s a lesson there: There are few things more powerful than a bad idea that gets made into legislation. It’s almost impossible to get rid of.

There was a story that ran on the same day as the Stack bombing mission that illustrates the intransigency of the government from a slightly different angle.

Qing Hong Wu, who’d come to this country from China when he was five, ran with the wrong crowd when he was 15 and got into serious trouble. He was arrested and convicted of a series of muggings in Manhattan.

Because he was a bright kid and showed some remorse the judge made a deal with him–serve three years in a reformatory, come out clean, and the judge would help him craft a new, useful life.

Qing kept his end of the bargain. He served his time, then worked and studied until today, at age 29, he is vice-president of Internet technology at a national company.

Or was, until immigration authorities showed up and arrested him as a criminal alien (his parents were undocumented immigrants) subject to mandatory deportation to China, which he hadn’t seen since he was five.

His friend the judge stepped in to vouch for him, as did his employer and dozens of others. After he spent four months in prison awaiting deportation, embattled New York Governor David Paterson finally granted his pardon.

Sometimes the problem isn’t the size of government, it’s the stupidity.

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Donald Kaul

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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