November 27, 2012

Grover Norquist’s Diminishing Influence and Why It’s Good for Democracy

By Jeremy Miller

Grover NorquistAn increasing number of conservative Republicans are repudiating, to varying degrees, the stranglehold Grover Norquist has on U.S. tax policy.  For years, Mr. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, has singlehandedly threatened and bullied Republicans into avoiding any semblance of compromise.  Now, with the “fiscal cliff” looming, many of those who have signed the pledge — which commits signers to oppose any tax increases at all, for all time — are having second thoughts.

To be clear, this isn’t a post endorsing one tax policy over another.  Rather, it’s about the role our elected leaders should play when it comes to the nation’s public interest and good governance in general.  Politics, like many other things, requires the art of compromise and good faith.  If the past two years of the 112th Congress are proof positive of anything, they are proof that without those two requirements, government is paralyzed in the face of unprecedented domestic woes.  As one commentator wrote yesterday, “Putting anti-tax absolutism ahead of [a solution] may play well with special interests, but it undercuts the ability to govern in the national interest.”

Mr. Norquist’s outsized influence in many respects is no different than those dastardly Super PACs — unprecedented influence from a small of cadre special interests.  So it’s refreshing to hear leading Republicans disown the no-tax pledge, at the very least for the sake of good faith in negotiations.  Lead among those bailing on Mr. Norquist is Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).  Last Thursday Sen. Chambliss said, “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.”  In a July op-ed Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) railed against Mr. Norquist’s “tortured definition of tax purity … rather than forcing Republicans to bow to him, Mr. Norquist is the one who is increasingly isolated politically.”  Just yesterday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said on CBS “This Morning” he’s “not obligated on the pledge.  I made Tennesseans aware I was just elected — the only thing that I’m honoring is the oath that I take when I’m sworn in this January.”  You can read about other prominent Republicans saying much the same thing here, here, and here.

The great conservative philosopher Edmund Burke once wrote, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”  Scratch out “your opinion” and insert Grover Norquist, and it’s the same thing.  Here’s to good faith negotiations and good governance for the public interest, not Mr. Norquist.

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