This isn’t exactly news, I know. But I still felt like getting it off my chest.
You see, Norquist is at the center of the hyper-ideological movement within the Republican Party that believes, and I am not making this up, that raising taxes is bad under any circumstance. Now, the scary thing is, this man has an M.B.A. from Harvard, and, whether he truly believes in this ridiculous crusade or not, he has certainly found it to be personally profitable to embody a vocal radical position to anyone who will listen.
What makes Norquist so dangerous is the childlike pledge he asks political candidates to sign, promising they will oppose any attempt to raise taxes. Here is the relevant passage in the version of the pledge presented to members of the House:
ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and
TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
As the President of the Americans for Tax Reform group, you’d think he’d know better than to propose something so blatantly counterproductive to sound fiscal policy. Sadly, it turns out that the impressive-sounding title is one he made up for himself in 1985, when he founded the group and began his quixotic mission.
Unfortunately, his populist cry has attracted signatories in search of campaign funds and Tea Party support. Faced with the impending tax hikes and spending cuts imposed by the fiscal cliff, he obviously remains unequivocal in his opposition to compromise by way of raising taxes on even the top 2% of earners. This steadfast opposition is based on the resounding Republican victory in the House of Representatives.
Well, sorry to break it to you, Grover, but Republicans actually lost seats in the House this election cycle. And for whatever reasons, candidates who’ve signed your silly pledge fared even worse than the general Republican caucus, down to “fewer than 218” from 238 in the last Congress. Senators supporting the pledge are down to 39 from 41. And a surprising zero of the Presidential candidates who signed Norquist’s screed were elected.
Even to Reagan revisionists like Norquist, who have conveniently forgotten that their idol raised both the capital gains tax as well as the corporate tax rate in 1986, the Laffer curve should hold some meaning. After all, it was the spurious explanation given for trickle-down economics in the first place. And even that clearly makes the point that raising taxes is the right thing to do from time to time.
What time might that be, you ask? How about when the nation faces unprecedented foreign debt, a political crisis requiring both parties to work together on a solution, and Presidential candidates are hard-pressed to prove they paid an effective tax rate over 10%? Does that sound serious enough to you?
In the past, Mr. Norquist has used the argument that his pledge is necessary to even initiate a conversation about lowering expenditures, which is nothing short of an astounding leap in logic. After all, you don’t hear Democrats swearing never to cut deficits in order to get the discussion on higher marginal tax rates going – and neither do you hear Norquist engaging the other side in a meaningful discussion by accepting that his pledge should not be taken literally. Oh no, he certainly means everything he’s said.
But maybe he should stop and think about who the beneficiaries of his hard-liner stance actually are. Strong-arm lobbyists like him have pushed the Republicans into a corner. Even now, as the GOP struggles to reorient itself, he’s standing his ground and calling Governor Romney a poopy-head, using faulty logic to ignore the political reality around him. Because while only a small percentage of Americans are in favor of tax raises across the board, a majority now supports raising marginal rates on households earning more than $250.000 a year.
How damaging his efforts are to the business of governing the country becomes apparent when listening to the current Democratic suggestion on how to proceed. Members of Congress are seriously advocating letting the fiscal cliff tax hikes take place, before lowering taxes on everyone but the top 2% – just to let Republicans who’ve signed the pledge vote in favor of lowering new taxes, rather than breaking their pledge and raising them for the highest-earning income brackets. It seems painfully obvious at this point that promising never ever to do something that happens to be an integral part of your job might not have been the best idea.
It should be said, though, that Mr. Norquist isn’t all bad. His marriage to a Palestinian Muslim has undoubtedly given him a unique perspective on the fear-mongering employed by his party to scare rural America into voting for them. He co-founded the Islamic Free Market Institute, advocates pulling troops out of Afghanistan in order to save money, and opposed the politicization of the proposed mosque in downtown Manhattan. It’s just too bad he can’t spend more time furthering cooperation and communication, rather than hurting his own country out of misguided zeal.