Monday, April 18, 2011

Grover Norquist, Grand Inquisitor of the Church of Cut My Taxes

Matt Yglesias posts on a very telling exchange between Alan Simpson and Grover Norquist at a deficit conference in Colorado.
[Alan] Simpson said he confronted anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist when the commission met and they exchanged words over the legacy of Ronald Reagan, claimed by both as their personal hero. When Reagan was president, he raised taxes 11 times, Simpson said, a bit of history that made Norquist squirm.
“I knew Ronald Reagan and you, Grover, are no Ronald Reagan,” Simpson said he told the president of Americans for Tax Reform, who famously said his goal was to make government small enough it could be drowned in a bathtub. Reagan didn’t raise taxes to give Norquist something to complain about, Simpson said. “He probably did it to make the country run.”
 Of course, Simpson is a smart man, and he knows full well that this conversation is proceeding from a false assumption.  Norquist doesn't want the country to run.  Period.  It's right there in his "bathtub" declaration (which I've always regarded as one of the more asinine things said in American history).  As for correcting Norquist on the actual record of the Reagan Administration, it should be painfully obvious that the current GOP doesn't really much care what Reagan actually did, only that they can use the graven image of St. Reagan to promote their current agenda, because we all know Reagan had more charisma than any of today's Republicans have.  I don't think anything proves that better than this piece from The Onion:
The GOP's humiliating blunder was discovered last weekend by RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who realized his party had been extolling "completely the wrong guy" after he watched the History Channel special Eisenhower: An American Portrait.

"When I heard about Eisenhower's presidential accomplishments—holding down the national debt, keeping inflation in check, and fighting for balanced budgets—it hit me that we'd clearly gotten their names mixed up at some point," Priebus told reporters. "I couldn't believe we'd been associating terms like 'visionary,' 'principled,' and 'bold' with President Reagan. That wasn't him at all—that was Ike."
That would be hilarious if it weren't historically accurate.  Pity that Reince Priebus would never admit it.

But the rest of Yglesias' piece is worth reading too.
I’m not sure if Norquist understands this or not, but in the current moment of institutional weakness for American liberalism, he’s the most powerful advocate we have. At the end of the day, the long-term level of taxation is determined by the level of money that’s spent. Every dollar the federal government spends will be repaid, with interest, out of taxes. And currently in Washington we have lots and lots of Democrats—from Barack Obama to Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet—arguing for reductions in scheduled spending. And the main thing standing in their way is Grover Norquist, his tax pledge, and his insistence that no Republican vote for any spending cutting bill that also includes some increases in revenue. So far, that’s denying cuts-oriented Democrats the working legislative majority they need to implement their agenda, and giving congress’ small number of hard-core progressives the ability to veto cuts in Social Security. 
I wouldn't be quite so cavalier as Matt wants to be in making this statement.  While it is true that I am gleefully mocking the GOP's ridiculous position on taxation with my Church of Cut My Taxes trope, the bottom line is that I still find it sad that one party is willing to think of increasing revenue from unsustainable and historically low levels, but doesn't have the guts to really make a push on that issue for fear of scaring the electorate, while the other party is willing to bring up the issue all day long while indulging the childish fantasy that more and more tax cuts will fix the deficit.  We have, in other words, a mature but timid party on one hand, and a fanatical cult of tax cuts desperately seeking converts on the other.  Ick.

Whatever happened to the spirit of compromise in American politics?  While it is true that some of these compromises where moral abominations (the 3/5ths Compromise, the Missouri Compromise, and the Compromise of 1850 all come to mind - but they all had to do with slavery), the history of 20th Century American politics is a history of deals and dealmakers.  FDR, Truman, Rayburn, Eisenhower, LBJ (who, as Senate Majority Leader, was arguably a better friend of Ike's Administration than Eisenhower's own party in Congress), Nixon, Reagan, O'Neill, even Clinton, Dole, and Gingrich (even if Newt had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the bargaining table) - all of these men were, ultimately, dealmakers.  Right now it seems like the Democrats are willing to make serious cuts, as long as there's some sort of revenue enhancers to make sure that the poor and middle-class don't absorb the whole burden.  But the Republicans aren't having any of it.

What do you expect from a party that cuts taxes on the rich while fighting two overseas wars?  Shared sacrifice is for suckers.

Alan Simpson, on the other hand, is a brave man.  He's advocating for tax increases, so it can't be long before he is excommunicated from the Republican Party, branded a RINO, and accused of being a liberal.  I'm sure Grover Norquist has a bell, book, and candle somewhere.*

So be it!

*Apropos of nothing in this post, is there anything which is more probative of the contrived, manufactured, and false nature of religious institutions than the concocting of elaborate rituals to declare that someone has fallen out of the deity's good graces and is henceforth banished from the flock?

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