COMMENTARY | It took anti-tax absolutist Grover Norquist just a bit over a month to issue a retort to President George H. W. Bush’s comment asking — in gist — why Norquist had been given such an elevated status among Republicans. Norquist made his comment on ABC’s “This Week ,” calling the former president a liar.
“When George Herbert Walker Bush ran for president, he promised the American people he wouldn’t raise their taxes,” Norquist said. “He lied to them. He broke his commitment to them and they threw him out of office four years later.”
Of course, that is Norquist’s oversimplified version of history. The election couldn’t possibly have hinged on other factors, like Gov. Bill Clinton’s personality and igniting Democratic voter turnout, that the U.S. had gotten embroiled in a war that appeared nearly pointless when Saddam Hussein was allowed to retain power in Iraq, that the U.S. experienced an 8-month recession from July 1990 to March 1991, and so on.
No, Bush lied. He made a political promise. Therefore, he was given the heave-ho.
No wonder it took Norquist five weeks to respond to the former president’s comment. It was such over-simplified thinking that resulted in the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge ,” a vow signed onto by nearly all Republicans since its inception in the mid-1980s. Its rigidness for its membership to abstain from voting for anything resembling a raise in taxes produced a situation over time where nearly all Republicans have signed onto the pledge for fear of political ostracism and opposition to election or reelection.
Former President Bush, in an interview with PARADE magazine in July was asked about the current state of intractableness in the Republican Party, especially with regard to not increasing taxes due to the Norquist pledge, stated, “The circumstances change and you can’t be wedded to some formula by Grover Norquist. It’s — who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?”
He’s been called by CBS’ “60 Minutes” the “most powerful man in Washington.” In their expose, CBS News displayed the reach of Norquist, who denies his power, and his pledge within Republican politics, not to mention what he and his advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform do when denied by those who refuse to sign or who sign and then find a reason to ignore the pledge. Norquist denies his power, stating that he is only looking after the interests of the American people and that the pledge signed is to Americans, not to him or his particular organization.
Some 95 percent of Republicans in the current 112th Congress has signed onto the pledge. During the Republican primaries, all but one of the candidates (former Utah governor Jon Huntsman) signed on to it.
Still, some have begun to question the idea of the lack of latitude such a pledge affords. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who refused to sign the pledge three times, questioned its effectiveness and noted that he still cut taxes as governor. Later the same month (June), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he was in favor of eliminating the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy, thereby breaking with Norquist’s pledge.
As he always does, Norquist insists that the pledge is a promise to the American people. He did so again on “This Week.” Insisting that both former President George H. W. Bush and son Jeb miss the point, that the “commitment… is to the American people and to the people of their state.”
Norquist is a simplistic man with simplistic ideas of how things should work. He told “60 Minutes” that government programs like Medicare and Social Security are a form of welfare, that they haven’t solved the problems they were created to solve, and that individual initiative was the answer. But since taxpayers pay for them, how can they really be considered welfare programs?
Of course, this from the man who famously said he wants to shrink government to the size that it would be easily drownable in a bathtub. Apparently decreasing federal income through less or the elimination of taxes is his master plan for downsizing.
Over a period of nearly three decades, he’s convinced thousands of Republican politicians to sign on to a tax pledge that has helped to bring Congress to its current state of immobility. But taxation, how it works, and what it impacts isn’t as simple as signing a less than 75-word pledge because of ideological fervor.
Norquist said he came up with the tax pledge when he was 12 years old. The pledge certainly reflects all the complex thinking required of a 12-year-old. And like a stubborn 12-year-old, Norquist is still stuck on his simple, misguided idea, unable to countenance where it could possibly go wrong.
And he still argues like a 12-year-old as well.