Is Grover Norquist controlling the government he hates

Grover Norquist

In this New York Times article, Frank Bruni points up just how ideological Grover Norquist really is. He is obsessed with strangling the federal government, “reducing it in size until you could drown it in a bathtub,” as Norquist puts it.

In a post awhile back, Alan Bean argued that Norquist has captured the U. S. Government. I took exception to that claim. But, however the debt ceiling battle turns out, Norquist has won.

Will his victory be permanent, or a Pyrrhic victory which turns back on the Groverians when people see the perils of that philosophy when it moves beyond a right wing rant to actually being enacted? Even if it is rejected in two, four, or six years I fear it will cost the most vulnerable among us dearly in the meantime.

But read Bruni for yourselves.

Charles Kiker

Retired pastor, founding board member of Friends of Justice

Taxes, and a Dangerous Purity


Published: July 30, 2011

WHAT does the face of antitax absolutism look like?

It has a tentative beard, more shadow than shag, like an awkward weigh station on the road from callow to professorial. It wears blunt glasses over narrowed eyes that glint mischievously, and its mouth is rarely still, because there’s no end to the jeremiads pouring forth: about the peril of Obama, the profligacy of Democrats and the paramount importance of opposing all tax increases, even ones that close the loopiest of loopholes.       

It belongs to Grover Norquist, and if you hadn’t seen it before, you probably spotted it last week, as he pinged from CNN to MSNBC to Fox, reveling in the solidarity Republicans had shown against any new revenue. The country was lurching toward a possible default, but Norquist was riding high. In between television appointments on Thursday, he met me for breakfast near Times Square.

As he walked in and sat down he was sermonizing. As he got up and left an hour later he was still going strong. He seems to live his whole life in midsentence and takes few detectable breaths, his zeal boundless and his catechism changeless: Washington is an indiscriminate glutton, and extra taxes are like excess calories, sure to bloat the Beast.

When he ordered only an egg white omelet with spinach, I had to wonder: preferred meal or deliberate metaphor?

He’s that consumed. Moments earlier, when he had asked a server about the breakfast options and was directed to a menu right in front of him, he proclaimed, “Oh, it’s written down! Unlike the Gang of Six proposal.” He was against that — it included revenue — and wasn’t about to miss a chance to say so, even this oddly incongruent opportunity.

It’s the group Norquist runs, Americans for Tax Reform, that has been pressing politicians for decades to sign a pledge not to vote for any net tax increase under any circumstances. All but 6 of the 240 Republicans in the House, along with two Democrats, have done so.

Republicans differ on whether that reflects the sway of Norquist, who often vilifies pledge resisters during their primary campaigns, or is simply the temper of these Tea Partying times. Which came first: the Norquist or the egg?

Either way, he has emerged as the most visible mouthpiece and muse of the lower-taxes, less-government troops that have played a major role in the debt crisis. And he provides a handy window into them.

His assessment of Obama was succinct: “The president of the United States is a left-wing ideologue.”

His analysis of the Democratic Party’s values and tactics was unambiguous — and uncomplicated by the deficits racked up under Obama’s predecessor.

“Their game plan has always been spend, spend, spend, then come and ask Republicans to be responsible and raise taxes,” he said.

“Democrats are like a teenage boy on a prom date,” he added, proceeding to act out multiple parts in an imagined conversation, which is one of his favorite things to do. “They keep asking. Maybe she’ll say yes. ‘No! No! No!’ But they have to keep asking. It’s part of their DNA — teenage boys and Democrats.”

Norquist has metaphor mania. The one he hatched to argue that tax increases — as opposed to spending cuts — are a clumsy way to manage budgetary woes yanked the conversation into a hypothetical operating room.

“I’m a surgeon,” he posited. “I’m never going to have a baseball bat in my list of tools, because I don’t think a baseball bat is very useful in taking out a kidney. ‘Oh, it worked for one patient!’ No! I’m not going to use a baseball bat to take out a kidney. It leaves too much blood on the floor.”

In short, tax increases are inelegant instruments, and you can’t let Derek Jeter perform organ excavation. Whether or not it’s covered under Obamacare.

Norquist equated keeping a lid on taxes with separating church and state, casting both as unshakable positions. The Founding Fathers, he added, had no problem with absolutes.

“The Constitution has a list of things that the government’s not allowed to do ever, ever, ever. The government’s not allowed to tell you what church to go to. Ever. Period. It’s just not. So you say, ‘What if God comes down and tells everyone He’s an Episcopalian? Can we do it then?’ No! Not then. Even then we cannot do it. Got it? It’s not allowed. We can’t steal your guns. ‘Well, what if I want to? What if a bad person has a gun?’ No. Uh-uh. No.” His omelet was virtually untouched.

What Democrats want, he said, is “to turn us into Europe, the European welfare state, somewhere between France and Greece. Which is an improvement. When I was in college, the guys I debated wanted to turn us into something between Sweden and East Germany. The left has receded in its demands. Most people on college campuses don’t speak as admiringly as the kids I went to college used to about the Khmer Rouge.”

That college was the same bastion of supposed elitism that gave the president his law degree: Harvard. In the decades after Norquist, now 54, graduated, he became an immensely well-connected player in the conservative establishment, a compatriot of the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and a magnet for corporate support. Businesses like their loopholes.

But they don’t like default, and there was chatter in Washington last week about whether Norquist had done their bidding too well. Were the Boehner-resistant House conservatives Norquist acolytes run amok? Was he having a Dr. Frankenstein moment?

And is his tax-slashing fervor entirely genuine, or is it ramped up, a theatrical means to get attention? That question dogs him as well. He has framed many of the newspaper and magazine articles about him, and displays them in the A.T.R.’s Washington headquarters.

But vanity is too commonplace inside the Beltway to be troubling. What’s alarming about Norquist and the pledge mentality, which has spread to other causes and other points of the political spectrum, is their promotion of the idea that political rigidity is to be prized above all else. That purity is king. Such a theology precludes nimbleness and compromise, which are not only the hallmarks of maturity but also the essence of sane government.

When making the rounds on Capitol Hill last week, I dropped in on Representative Kevin Yoder, a Republican freshman from Kansas. He considers himself a fiscal conservative, but voted in favor of the Boehner bill. And he never did sign Norquist’s pledge.

His reason was as modestly stated as it was unimpeachable. “My responsibility lies to my constituents,” not to Norquist, he said, adding: “I can’t foresee every scenario.” No one can. That’s why it’s best not to paint yourself into a corner, and to leave room even for an Episcopal conversion.

6 thoughts on “Is Grover Norquist controlling the government he hates

  1. I’m reminded that even Saddam Hussein himself had ruled out cooperating with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda organization, even if they had common enemies, since Saddam knew. Osama’s fanaticism made him impossible to work with. Perhaps the same, although non-violent, dynamic is operating here. Not much work seems to be getting done.

    Are the Democrats and President Obama making themselves look weak by negotiating with Republicans, who don’t value diplomacy, compromise, bipartisanship, flexibility, openmindedness, etc., at all? I’ve read opinions that the “cowboy archetype” of the American man is being clung to by the Republican party when they don’t have much else; this could be why Grover Norquist’s monomania is so popular in Washington right now, when it’s not popular on Main Street, USA. I’m not sure what the approval ratings of President Obama are right now, but I don’t think most people would mind if he told them that taxes on the rich were going back to where they were before President Bush ran up the deficit.

  2. Last I heard, Obama’s approval ratings were +- 40%. Generic Republican ratings were lower, in the low 30’s.

  3. Wall Street didn’t jump for joy over the bill. DJ IA down over 300 points last two days.

  4. I downloaded a copy of Grover Norquist’s, “Americans for Tax Reform” document.

    Taxpayer Protection Pledge
    I, _____, pledge to the taxpayers of the (____
    district of the) state of ______ and to the American
    people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts
    to increase the marginal income tax rate for
    individuals and business; and TWO, oppose any
    net reduction or elimination of deductions and
    credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further
    reducing tax rates.

    He is not economically gifted, investment savvy, knowledgeable of financial institutional operations nor is he an expert on the making of the Constitution and the nation of the United States; so why was he able to submit a one paragraph statement that the most power government in the history of human kind has recorded, is suddenly operating, obeying, and defending?

    Every elected official raises his or her hand and gives a solemn oath of office to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and to serve the citizens in her boarders. If this is true the 236 GOP Representatives and 41 Senators have lied to the Constitution and the people. They are serving a one page paragraph and the man behind it. This is a travesty and an insult to mine and the nation’s intelligence. The Republicans lie everyday about what the American people want and what they should accurately say is, “What Grover Norquist Wants”. Every single Republican that signed this document should be impeached for breach of elected office and threat to the Constitution. Grover Norquist document is an offense to the founding fathers of this great nation and the average citizen living in it.

  5. That #Two Oath is the one that has the Republicans protecting big the wealthy and corporate tax loop holes. No doubt mr. norquist is trying to protect his cash and ineptness with this one.

    I hope and pray that the Republicans lose every branch of office, federal, state, and local to understand why you do not stop serving the people and instead serve the one. The country’s beginnings started with “We The People” not “I Am The One”.

  6. Stop hearing and start reading…no excuse for ignorance…too much information available at the finger tip for statements like, “last I heard”.

    Don’t be an idiot all your life…Google it or Yahoo the subject.

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