Apparently You’re Supposed to Disapprove of Some Guy Named Grover Norquist Because He Wants Lower Taxes
It seems like the world has decided “Fiscal Cliff” is the term we’re going to use when discussing these scheduled tax hikes and spending cuts that will usher in a new recession, etc. Everyone seems to agree that it’s very important that we avoid this cliff, but not so important that we do anything serious to change the federal government’s insane spending trajectory.
In the middle of all this silliness, there’s a guy with a funny name who appears on TV frequently and says that maybe higher taxes isn’t the policy our lawmakers should be pursuing. This guy also suggests that it just might out of control government spending that needs to be reined in. For making these completely sensible observations, this guy has been compared to terrorists and dictators. But who the hell is Grover Norquist anyway? Let’s find out together, dear readers.
The story so far…
If you type “Grover Norquist is” into Google, the first four auto-complete results are: gay, evil, a Muslim, and a traitor. If you type “Grover Norquist is a” into Google, the next results are “douche” and “moron.” It’s safe to say this guy rubs a lot of people the wrong away.
At first blush, Norquist seems to be the latest Two Minutes Hate object among do-gooder-social-justice progressives everywhere. He’s the latest version of the Koch brothers – a private citizen with the temerity to express his politically incorrect opinions regarding public policy in, you know, public. How indecent.
To be sure, none of us are above criticism, and Norquist does as much as anyone to invite vitriol, and no one could argue he is not a public figure. He’s the founder and president of a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization called Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), which has existed since the Reagan administration. As head of ATR, he’s a visible talking head on any number of cable news programs and online video segments. Norquist was a guest on Meet the Press just this past Sunday, providing a counterpoint to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Here’s the video if you’re interested (and surely no one would judge you too harshly if you weren’t).
Norquist is probably best known for ATR’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Basically, it’s a way for Republican candidates and officeholders to burnish their conservative bona fides by promising never to raise taxes. This Pledge more than anything else is the source of Norquist’s supposed influence, and what makes him a target of lefty wrath.
At the time of this writing, if you go to the ATR website, before you can browse the site proper, you are encouraged to sign a petition related to the infamous Pledge: the unartfully named “Taxpayer Protection Pledge Signer Petition.” This petition simply says, “We, the undersigned, urge Congressmen and Senators who signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to keep the promise they made to their constituents to not raise taxes. Washington has an overspending problem, not an under-taxing problem.”
On its face, what’s not to like? Anyone rational person knows that the federal government’s dismal fiscal outlook is the result of overspending. It’s a pity that rational people are in short supply when it comes to U.S. political discourse.
Basically, what Norquist does is ask politicians from one party to say that they won’t raise taxes. For making this simple request, he is routinely portrayed as having some kind of iron grip on the Republican Party. CBS News ran a segment on Norquist’s Pledge in 2011 (and re-aired it during the latest campaign), which was called “The Pledge: Grover Norquist’s hold on the GOP.” Here’s an item from last month in the Washington Post headlined, “Will the fiscal cliff break Grover Norquist’s hold on Republicans?” Former Democrat strategist and current CNN contributor Donna Brazile just wrote a piece this week entitled, “GOP, break Grover Norquist’s grip on you.”
When he’s not being described as some kind of puppet master, Norquist is routinely condemned in harsher terms. Norquist is an ayatollah. Norquist is an evil overlord. Norquist is a terrorist. Norquist is in the same league as Ceauşescu and Mubarak. Despite his frequent public appearances, Norquist is a stealth tyrant.
Just because this guy asked some politicians to say they wouldn’t raise taxes. Christ.
To be sure, there are plenty of reasons to criticize Norquist. Like most of your cable news talking heads, his public persona seems to be mostly shtick – and when you’ve got to live your gimmick, there are plenty of times when you’re going to make an ass of yourself. Just a few months ago, Norquist called Jewish Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer a Nazi for introducing a piece of shit bill that would have forced wealthy people who give up their U.S. citizenship to prove that they did not do so for tax reasons. That was a very naughty thing for Norquist to say, and just because the Nazis actually did enact a very similar policy on its fleeing Jewish population in the 1930’s is no excuse (probably) for overheated rhetoric.
But I get the impression that tasteless Nazi analogies are not why lefties can’t stand Norquist. For your average patriotic liberal, punitive taxation is inherently good. It’s an article of ideology among mainstream lefty Democrat-voter types that every dollar spent by the government on domestic social welfare programs is a dollar that is essential to the wellbeing of some disadvantaged person somewhere (very likely a minority).
Despite mountains of evidence that government spending routinely benefits all sorts of individuals and groups that are not poor, it appears that lefties just can’t abide the idea of spending cuts. It’s like they assume that even if we eliminate all middle class and corporate welfare, that maybe a poor person might get hurt by accident, so we just can’t even think about cutting domestic spending. As an advocate for spending restraint, Norquist is essentially a secular blasphemer. As Reason editor Matt Welch observes in the above-linked item, “comparing a citizen’s attempts to keep tax rates low with the behavior of murderous dictators reveals much more about the ideology of the analogists than of their target.”
You don’t have to like how Norquist conducts himself to recognize that what he says about spending is undeniably true. It ain’t insufficient “revenue enhancement” (or whatever Orwellian term we’re supposed to use for tax hikes these days) that’s driving U.S. government deficits – it’s out of control spending. Obviously.
President Barack Obama often talks fondly about the prosperity of the Clinton years. It’s true that the U.S. did pretty well in the 90’s, and as the above chart indicates, much lower government spending wasn’t an obstacle to social justice. If Obama were willing to return to Clinton-era spending levels, I doubt Norquist and his fellow travelers would object too strenuously to Clinton-era tax rates. That would be a welcome compromise and – dare I say – change we can believe in.