It would seem that the Left is preparing to move on from the Koch Brothers as their bette noire. Their rage seems to have found a new target: Grover Norquist. Norquist, as you know, is the man behind the pledge that most Republicans have signed promising not to raise taxes. Many see this an impediment to a Grand Bargain.
It’s fine to see his pledge as a problem. What’s not fine is how the “new tone” media who are always wailing and gnashing teeth over the “demonization” of Barack Obama are referring to him:
David Horsey, Los Angeles Times:
Grover Norquist, GOP ayatollah, is losing his grip on the party [...]
Ayatollahs seem to just appoint themselves and then start enforcing their own brand of orthodoxy. Grover Norquist has been doing that in the Republican Party for years.
Slate’s Jacob Weisberg, on Twitter:
Honecker, Ceaucescu, Mubarak.. Norquist
Frank Bruni, New York Times:
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Representative Peter King of New York…stressed that the country’s current fiscal woes trumped vows made in less debt-ridden times, and over on “Fox News Sunday,” Senator John McCain signaled a receptiveness to new revenue, another dagger to Norquist’s dark heart. [...]
It’s as if some spell has at long last been broken, and the formerly bewitched villagers are rising up to defy their evil overlord and insist on the possibility of life and even mirth without a deduction for corporate jets.
Christopher Moraff, Philadelphia magazine:
The Rise and Fall of Anti-Tax Terrorist Grover Norquist
Daryl Rowland, Huffington Post:
In the same way that McCarthyism now largely overshadows the early days of the Eisenhower administration, the W. Bush and Obama years will be seen as the stage on which Grover Norquist’s domination of domestic policy took place. [...]
McCarthy was of course a public figure, while Norquist has been largely a stealth tyrant, in the glorious tradition of figures like Cardinal Richelieu or Rasputin.
It may seem odd for me to defend Norquist, since I disagree with him. I’ve said that taxes probably need to go up if and only if we get statutory changes to Medicare and Social Security in the bargain. And I agree with what Matt Welch says in the linked Reason article: the pledge has given Republicans a way to prove their conservative bonafides by opposing tax increases without doing the really hard work of cutting spending.
But I hate it when I see someone attacked unfairly. And the attacks on Norquist cross me as massively unfair. The man believes that we should not raise taxes ever, that this is the only way to keep the size of government in check. I disagree with this as I believe that “starve the beast” has only served to increase the size of government by making spending painless to 98% of us. But it is not an unreasonable point of view. And when I’ve seen Norquist speak, he does not cross me a crazy demagogue. He crosses me as someone with a very firm but not ridiculous point of view.
You’re going to compare that to a bunch of murderers and tyrants? You’re going to say that opposing tax hikes is the same as exercising absolute power over a nation? And then you’re going to turn around and tell me that it’s our side that has a problem maintaining perspective?
Here’s the thing: if Grover Norquist was the worst thing in American conservatism, the GOP would be in great shape. He is a vociferous supporter of free markets and,
a Muslim himself having married into a Muslim family, has been trying to build bridges to the Islamic community in America. He’s a member of GOProud and has moderate views on immigration. He has supported getting out of foreign wars. His views on these issues caused some to brand him as a terrorist supporter and for World Net Daily to brand him a minion of Satan (no, I’m not exaggerating). He also has a sense of humor about himself. When a joke came out that the deal on the fiscal cliff had removed the provision to punch Norquist in the dick, he expressed relief. When a graphic was circulated with him as the Wizard of Oz and the Republicans paying homage to him, he asked for a copy for his mother. You couldn’t swing a dead cat in Washington DC and not hit five people who are worse than Grover Norquist.
Let’s take a step back here. We are told that Norquist wanting Republicans to never raise taxes is unreasonable. I do this all the time, but it’s worth hammering home as much as possible: let’s review some the things that our media and political establishment think are “reasonable”: two million people in prison, two foreign wars with no clear objective, 90-year sentences for legal marijuana growers, $1 trillion in deficit spending, expensive private jets and motorcades for every jack-a-napes in Washington, half billion dollar stadiums for baseball teams.
Really? You’re going to tell me that Grover Norquist is the real threat to America?
What provoked me to defend Norquist was an extremely silly article today from John Dean that argues that not only is the Norquist pledge destructive, it is unconstitutional. After pointing out that the pledge in unenforceable and really just a campaign promise, he says:
The oaths for federal office (and state offices as well), which demand allegiance first and foremost to the Constitution, are absolutely incompatible with the Norquist pledge. Congress has the defined power to raise or lower taxes, not merely to lower them. Indeed, to give the central government the power to tax was one of the reasons the founders abandoned the Article of Confederation, and wrote a new constitution. The Norquist pledge prohibits the pledge-taker from raising taxes, and thus, it requires that the pledge-taker give something less than true faith and allegiance, without reservation, to our Constitution—as required by that Constitution. The Norquist pledge requires the signer to relinquish a Constitutional power.
Bullshit. There is nothing unconstitutional whatsoever about asking our Congress to not exercise one of their powers. Congressmen could take pledges to not start wars, even though Congress has that power. They could take pledges to fight the exercise of imminent domain, even though Congress has that power. If the Supreme Court ruled that Congress could outlaw abortion, would Dean think it “unconstitutional” for pro-choice politicians to promise never to exercise that power? If they ruled that Congress could censor speech (as they did early in the last century), would it be “unconstitutional” to pledge not to use that power? What if it said Congress could ignore habeas?
Congress has a lot of power; too much, in my opinion. Promising not to use that power is not unconstitutional; it’s admirable. And the entire exercise is just dumb. The Norquist pledge is, as Dean points out repeatedly, just a campaign promise. It is not legally binding. The Republicans do not have microchips implanted that prevent them from raising taxes. The only thing Norquist has threatened to do is to primary promise breakers, which happens all the time.
Look, we’re in a tough spot right now. We need to balance the budget. But we also know that the steps necessary will be painful and possibly hurt the economy. It’s a delicate dance. The pledge is a double-edge sword but, on balance, I think it’s helping. It means the Republicans will not give in on taxes unless they get tax reform or changes to entitlements, no meaningless “we’ll cut spending in 2017, honest” baloney. The only way they will survive breaking the pledge is to get something real and substantial in return. That’s not a bad thing.
This difficult process is not helped by turning on and demonizing the likes of Grover Norquist. And the turning on him is just another demonstration of how the reasonable, enlightened, non-name-calling Democrats will quickly turn on anyone they don’t like.
(*I knew the Dean article was swirling around the bowl when he started quoting the dictionary definition of “pledge”. Quoting definitions is always a sign of a desperate writer.)