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The Norqmonster

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?

OK.

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.)

11 comments

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  1. Argive says:

    I think a baseball analogy works here. Democrats hate Grover Norquist for the same reason that Phillies fans hate Chipper Jones, Red Sox fans hate Derek Jeter, and every fan everywhere hates Scott Boras: he is really good at his job.

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  2. Kimpost says:

    He is a vociferous supporter of free markets and, a Muslim himself, has been trying to build bridges to the Islamic community in America (for which some have branded him a terrorist supporter).

    He’s married to a Muslim, but I don’t think he is one himself. Or has he converted?

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  3. Argive says:

    He’s married to a Muslim, but I don’t think he is one himself. Or has he converted?

    I was curious about that too. Seems that as of a few years ago, he described himself as a boring white bread Methodist.

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  4. Seattle Outcast says:

    Quoting Horsey outside of Seattle is a new one. He’d gone completely off the rails, even for a lot of Seattle, around 2000 or so. He became too involved in the Clinton impeachment and never moved on.

    Wthe P-I closed down and became an on-line Seattle version of The Village Voice that didn’t give out paychecks it was a matter of time until the formerly funny cartoonist turned leftist party wonk found a gig that allowed him to get stuck on stupid for money.

    He’d told Seattle where he was going, but nobody ever claimed to miss.

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  5. Hal_10000 says:

    Thanks for the correction Kimpost. I misread a page.

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  6. Hal_10000 says:

    think a baseball analogy works here. Democrats hate Grover Norquist for the same reason that Phillies fans hate Chipper Jones, Red Sox fans hate Derek Jeter, and every fan everywhere hates Scott Boras: he is really good at his job.

    THIS ^^^ It’s the same reason for the Koch hate: they’ve been effective.

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  7. Mook says:

    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.

    Minor quibble – why is it that whenever spending cuts are mentioned, Medicare and SS are always named for cuts with no mention of Medicaid, Food Stamps, Govt. housing, and other UNEARNED entitlements? I think it’s unfair to conflate Medicare and SS, which were paid into over a lifetime by most people, with unearned benefits. MSM and Dems intentionally conflate them while pretending to be the great defenders of the SS “trust fund”. I believe Senate Repubs came out with a study just this year that Welfare outlays were the #1 Federal budget cost, far outstripping even the Dept. of Defense spending.

    I’m not saying that serious reforms aren’t needed in Medicare and SS, only that unearned welfare benefits should suffer far deeper cuts.

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  8. Hal_10000 says:

    Mook, I agree. I usually mean to include Medicaid and other aide, although those will cut themselves if the economy picks up. Medicare and SS are bigger problems because they are permanent entitlements, not (theoretically) temporary safety nets.

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  9. Dave D says:

    THIS ^^^ It’s the same reason for the Koch hate: they’ve been effective.

    That’s NOT why we hate Soros, right? I hate him because he’s a stinking hyporcrite.

    Oh, and THIS:

    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.

    was my “0%Alex/100% Hal” breakpoint for this post. lol/jk

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  10. West Virginia Rebel says:

    Personally, I think pledges signed decades ago are generally meaningless; they’re stunts pulled as purity tests. In this regard I agree with Saxby Chambliss. But these guys have chosen Norquist as their new target because he’s pretty much all they’ve got left now that Obama has a second term.

    I think what really bums out the economic lefties is that they know they’ve lost the war on the main issues, even if they won’t ever admit it.
    West Virginia Rebel recently posted..Nothing For NothingMy Profile

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  11. AlexInCT says:

    Minor quibble – why is it that whenever spending cuts are mentioned, Medicare and SS are always named for cuts with no mention of Medicaid, Food Stamps, Govt. housing, and other UNEARNED entitlements?

    For the same reason that democrat controlled strongholds immediately cut police, firefighters, and prison guards instead of nonessential things that really are not needed: people notice when you cut things they all need/rely on, but give two shits when you cut things they don’t.

    In this case the double whammy is that SS and Medicare are so huge that it would impact a lot more people than cutting anything else, and the various lobbying groups that represent these people would react negatively. Public opinion matters too. Cut granny’s check and people say ouch. Cut the welfare queen’s check, and people say why such a small cut?

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