On Grover Norquist And Ideological Headlocks

From The Boston Globe, an interesting long-form profile of Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform  and promoter of the famous (or infamous) “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”:


The article is well worth reading, if for no other reason than the fact that we should all better understand the man who works quietly in the background in Washington and across the country to squash any efforts to raise additional government revenues, and who effectively owns the political souls of the vast majority of the congressional Republican Party. At the present time, an astonishing 238 members of the House of Representatives and 41 Senators are signatories to “the pledge”, including 97.5 percent of the entire Republican congressional delegation.

Few other special interest groups – even lobbying powerhouses such as the National Rifle Association – can boast such levels of fealty from elected representatives.

The only problem is that Americans for Tax Reform is obsessed with treating only one of the two symptoms of America’s fiscal malaise, and couldn’t care less about the underlying illness (the structural deficit). Seeking to cap the revenues that government can collect is all very well and good, but there is nothing bold or patriotic about doing that while doing nothing, or in some cases, actively thwarting efforts to make a serious effort at reducing expenditures, such as those outlined in the Bowles-Simpson committee proposal.

The following passage from the article lays bare, once again, the automatic, unapologetic contradictions at the heart of today’s GOP:

Jon Golnik, a Republican pledge-signer who was unsuccessful in his 2010 bid to unseat Democratic congresswoman Niki Tsongas, tells the crowd he’s running again and rails at the out-of-control spending of the Obama administration. He rattles off a host of statistics about the implications of the national debt that are so sobering they might give even a Keynesian pause.

When Golnik begins taking questions from the audience, the first comes from a North Shore man named Edward Purtz, who asks with furrowed brow: “We’ve seen the Navy cut to levels it hasn’t been since the 1800s. How do you stand on these defense cuts?”

Without missing a beat, Golnik replies, “I oppose them.”

I would point out that, as frequently said by Ron Paul, it is entirely possible to actually increase spending on national defence while cutting overall military spending by extracting America from costly foreign entanglements. I could further point out that comparing the number of ships in the US Navy in 1800 and 2012, noting a fall and interpreting this as a decline in relative naval power is about as stupid as it is possible to be, given the fact that any modern frigate or destroyer could make short work of the entire 19th century fleets of every naval power and not suffer a scratch, but again this is rather beside the point here.

Today we have a Republican Party caught in an ideological headlock by the likes of Grover Norquist and fired-up tea partiers, all of whom talk incessantly about cutting and balancing the federal budget, but all of whom reflexively oppose cutting their own pet projects, or those large parts of the non-discretionary budget that account for the vast majority of spending.

The interviewer in one passage asks Norquist that, given the fact that government spending as increased in real terms every year since the 1960s, has his personal crusade not been a complete failure?

Following our lengthy discussion about runaway spending under Bush, Norquist stresses that ATR’s “ultimate goal is to reduce the size and scope and cost of government as a percentage of the economy, so we want to spend less and not raise taxes.”

“So,” I ask, “that has been a complete failure, right?”

“No,” Norquist replies and begins to speak extra slowly. “The line in the sand on taxes has been very successful.”

And there we have it, folks. Defending the line in the sand – no new taxes, ever – is what matters, the only thing that matters at the moment to those on the tea party-hijacked right. They won’t look for additional revenues anywhere, under any circumstances. They talk loudly about slashing the budget but single out their pet projects for exemption and fail to seriously engage on the topic of cutting spending in the key areas which drive the federal budget deficit. And still they call themselves the party of fiscal responsibility.