As the so-called “fiscal cliff” nears, prominent Republicans have recently been making some noise about abandoning Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss, South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham, and New York Rep. Peter King have all, to varying degrees, broken with or at least raised doubts about the pledge.
In a statement so daft and historically incompetent it deserves induction in some kind of head-shake-eye-roll Hall of Fame, King said, “A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress. For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941, I would have supported a declaration of war against Japan. I’m not going to attack Japan today.”
Jesus, it's like we have third-graders running the country.
Still, this is potentially (only potentially) a big deal. For those who don’t follow American politics with my fevered annoyance, Norquist and his group, Americans for Tax Reform, is one of the (if not “the”) most powerful lobbies in Washington. If you’ve voted Republican on the national level in the last couple decades you’ve probably been inadvertently voting for Norquist and his anti-tax Jihad.
Part of the Reagan-era College Republican clown show that included Ralph Reed and Jack Abramoff, Norquist is, as former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell put it, “the man behind the curtain,” the Oz of the Republican Party. Americans for Tax Reform went out and got every Republican senator and congressman to sign a pledge saying they would never vote for any net tax increase under any circumstance, and if a candidate refuses to sign or breaks the pledge, ATR primaries the guy, calling him a RINO and accusing him of being impure as a conservative.
It’s basically a heavily funded witch-hunt that has radicalized the Republican Party around its no-compromise tax position and blown up the deficit. Obviously on it’s face, signing a pledge to never raise taxes under any circumstance is as stupid as a Democrat signing a pledge to never cut a government program under any circumstance no matter how inefficient or useless. We don’t have time to get into how low the tax burden has become on the wealthy, but suffice it to say a large part of the reason for our budget deficits is purely that the wealthy have over the last thirty years been escaping larger and larger bites of the tax code.
Here’s the rub, though: If you ever watch interviews with Norquist or read what he has to say about democracy, he explains what his actual endgame is. I mean, I’m not an accredited psychiatrist so I don’t want to call the guy a sociopath outright, but someone should really put together a Collected Works of Grover Norquist so Republican voters can understand what they’ve been voting for. He’s said quite openly that his aim to reduce taxes is two-fold: first, just because of your standard I-hate-taxes-money-is-the-only-value-in-society stance, but secondly because he wants to starve the federal government of revenue in order to bring down entitlement programs like social security, Medicaid, and Medicare. The Ryan budget was the first real policy proposal to begin this process, but you can bet if President Romney had enacted it, it would not have been the last.
Furthermore, Norquist has a unique view of money in politics in that he doesn’t think there’s enough of it. While he surely adored Citizens United, he thinks campaign financing should go completely unregulated, allowing billionaires and corporations to spend limitlessly in backing particular candidates and parties. He wants an absolute free market economy and a free market political system where the best ideas don’t become law, just the best-financed ideas. It’s a philosophy that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Divine Right of Kings.
I doubt this budget deal would be the end of Norquist, but at this point, both decent Republicans and Americans should be praying for at least a chink in his armor.