Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) (James Crisp/Associated Press)
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) (James Crisp/Associated Press)

The saying goes that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged. But maybe a libertarian is a reporter who has been snooped upon by the Justice Department or a person singled out for extra scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service. There is no small irony here that the president who has done more to expand the reach of the federal government and who has encroached on personal medical decisions more than many imagined should now be giving a tutorial in abuse of power to a newly alert mainstream media.

This president told us government is a word for what we do together. But, of course, what we voluntarily do together is quite different from the extraordinary power of government to compel compliance and wield coercion. Why could Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius persuade health-care companies to fork over Obamacare implementation money? Because she holds the club of the regulatory state.

Recall when the Obama administration wanted government contractors to reveal their political contributions? Liberals scoffed at conservatives’ fear this would be used to reward friends and punish enemies. I doubt they’d laugh it off now.

Before the IRS scandal broke, CNBC reported: “Get ready for the Internal Revenue Service to play a dominant role in health care. When Obamacare takes full effect next year, the agency will enforce most of the laws involved in the reform — even deciding who gets included in the health-care mandate.”

Conservatives don’t like ObamaCare, and they especially don’t like the IRS, which already has its hands on reams of personal data, running roughshod over health-care insurance choices. Its duties are vast:

[T]he agency has to administer 47 tax provisions under Obamacare. They include the right to levy a penalty against businesses and individuals who don’t provide or acquire insurance. Noting that the IRS will collect the penalties, the decision labeled them a tax.

The IRS also has to determine how to distribute annual subsidies to 18 million people who make less than $45,000 a year and thus qualify for subsidies in buying health coverage, as well as how to deliver tax credits to small businesses that buy coverage for workers.

In addition, the agency will collect taxes on medical devices and a Medicare surtax on people making more than $200,000 a year, as well as conducting compliance audits of tax-exempt hospitals.

But, you say, the IRS “can ask for the money, but there are no civil or criminal penalties for refusing to pay it. The IRS cannot seize bank accounts or dock wages to collect it. No interest accumulates for unpaid penalties. The law allows the IRS to withhold tax refunds to collect the penalty but only if someone overpaid taxes.”

Yes, but anyone think one part of the IRS won’t tell another part of the IRS, say in tax audits, about who hasn’t been paying the fine for noncompliance with the insurance mandate? If you did before, you now might doubt that the IRS would be so careful.

Ironically, we’ve driven insurance carriers, health-care providers and employers nuts with all sorts of health-care privacy regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But now the same IRS crew who decided that “patriot” in a group’s title would get an audit is going to hold all sorts of information both about your health insurance and your income. Welcome to Obamacare.

We shouldn’t imagine convoluted conspiracies nor refuse to give government power to do its essential functions. But giving the government extraordinary power and access to gobs of information with the hope and the prayer that it will behave itself and not abuse our trust is foolishness. I bet if you asked Americans if they support allowing the IRS to administer Obamacare, you would get a resounding no.

This is one of many reasons for freezing and rethinking Obamacare. But the IRS, Justice Department snooping and the HHS shake-down are broader reminders to liberals enamored of all sorts of regulations, government intrusion and criminalization (of everything from drug use to environmental infractions) that government comes with real downsides. It not only inhibits economic dynamism and misallocates resources, but, in real and meaningful ways, it also can suppress, intimidate and bully the citizenry. Pols who don’t appreciate this are going to face some very angry voters.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.