Monday, July 11, 2011

The Week: Grover Norquist

The Week is an excellent publication. Pulling together pieces of information from all over the media world, it sums up many issues, people, and events succinctly. I can't help but want to bring attention to many of these stories with a little commentary of my own.

Grover Norquist
. Some of you poli-sci majors will recognize this name. Otherwise, you probably only know him for his policies. He is a self-proclaimed radical against any form of tax increases. Any form. “He recently feuded with...Republican senators because they had voted to eliminate $6 billion in ethanol subsidies to farmers. Norquist insists that removing existing tax breaks violates the pledge.” He has said, “my ideal citizen is the self-employed, homeschooling, IRA [Individual Retirement Account]-owning guy with a concealed-carry permit. Because that guy doesn't need the goddamn government for anything.” The problem with his anti-tax agenda is that it has paralyzed Republicans into a mantra that any sort of tax increase, even closing tax loopholes, is bad. That it will somehow lead to a totalitarian society. To be clear, “our tax code is rife with tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthy; many, for example, erase their liability by deducting pas capital-gains losses from this year's income,” says Bruce Bartlett of the NYTimes, “perhaps we can agree at least on closing loopholes for wage-earners at the very top. It's not socialism to ask them to pay something.”

Except Norquist and his pledge, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, keep any sort of real progress on the debate over taxes from occurring. He refuses to acknowledge that the government pays out to large corporations and middle and upper class citizens, purely because they have had the political clout to do so, and allows our working (read lower class, because let's be real about how we view and treat them) class to have better Medicare benefits, safe food and drugs, art, or education. He has called for the abolition of “such agencies as the FDA, Department of Education, and the National Endowment for the Arts.” This is negligent and myopic.

If Norquist were to get his way and shrink government until he could “drown it in a bathtub” who would pay for roads? Who would pay our public officials? Who would manage our public buildings and museums? Who would preserve our nation's history and monuments? Our national parks? Our borders? Anything. The bottom line is that our government does a lot for us. It does a lot for even the independent types like Mr. Norquist who got his start in government, appointed by Reagan in the Chamber of Commerce.

By taking absolutist positions such as his, he is hurting this country and its fundamental values of free discourse and open discussion. By backing Republicans into a corner with their “voting constituency” he is keeping us from actually practicing Democracy. He is creating voting blocs dedicated to one single position. We strive in this country to let all perspectives be heard, putting our personal views and morals forward as part of the public debate. When the complexity of your position is “no new taxes” there is little room to argue and even less in which to find workable solutions.

This also is kind of odd. Reagan expanded government to record levels of spending and actually raised taxes in 1983. It is odd to think that people think themselves Reaganites whilst ignoring the obvious and incontrovertible. The modern Republican hard-line of no new taxes stems directly from Reagan's administration, but a nuanced perspective on his presidency shows someone known for his rhetorical flairs but surprisingly complex and compromising policies. He knew the difference between winning the electorate and running a country. Bottom line: don't buy the crap. Politics are politics, and this nation is far more moderate than any cute one-liner a radical like Norquist can hand you.