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grover norquist

Even when he loses, Grover Norquist wins. This is one of the unsettling conclusions to be drawn from Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen’s December 20 feature, “Grover Norquist’s Real Game: Shifting Power and Wealth to the 1 Percent,” posted on Truthout and AlterNet.

Their richly detailed portrait of the founder of Americans for Tax Reform shows Norquist as not simply a more highly evolved version of Howard Jarvis, the California anti-tax zealot who bequeathed us the nightmare known as Proposition 13. Indeed, as Dreier and Cohen state, Norquist is not really a conservative genuinely interested in smaller government or tax reform, but the hired arsonist of big business. Although highly secretive about who pays his rent, Norquist has flacked or lobbied for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Big Tobacco and the gambling industry, to name a few of his benefactors.

Many remember Norquist’s 1998 ballot initiative designed to seriously hamper California unions from allocating membership dues toward political campaigns. The measure was soundly defeated, but not before completely tying up the unions’ attention and resources for half a year, and costing organized labor nearly $25 million. (Norquist’s sponsors ponied up a relatively modest $6.4 million.) Even though the unions had won, all they had to show for it was their right to stay put – until 2005, when they had to fight a similar initiative. Norquist, however, merely shrugged and moved on to set new fires elsewhere.

Dreier and Cohen locate where these blazes reliably occur – what Norquist identifies as the “five pillars” of support for the Democratic Party. Besides unions, his targets include trial lawyers, urban mayors, voter registration groups and progressive organizations that receive some form of federal funds.

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The endgame of all this, Dreier and Cohen point out, is to cripple the Democratic Party as either a governing force or opposition entity, which will ensure a permanent Republican majority. Such a majority, of course, is a mirage – the fantasy of Boer Republicans whose grip on power (and reality) slips away with every new Census report and redistricting map. Still, there’s plenty of white mischief to be made in the meantime, and Norquist is always available to help sabotage the economy or poison the well of public discourse. Norquist, Dreier and Cohen note, is the enforcer of “the Republican Party’s obsessive opposition to all taxes – an obsession that threatens to drive America off a fiscal cliff.”

You could say that at least Senator Joe McCarthy, the persecutor of liberals, was an elected official, while nobody voted to let Norquist impose his maximalist no-tax pledges on those representatives of the people who have been voted into office.

In fact, the anti-democratic impulses of Norquist and his wealthy patrons cause them to sneer at the very idea of a popular will. (Tellingly, Republican governors form the lowest number of electeds to sign the pledge – presumably because they live in a real world where the results of bad ideological decisions are seen on the street almost immediately.)

steve mikulan

Dreier and Cohen do, however, glimpse hope around the corner, in the opposition to Norquist that has grown within his own party. They note that “last month, seven Republican House members who had signed Norquist’s pledge announced that their commitment has expired.” Hopefully Norquist’s own moment in the spotlight will also soon expire.

Steven Mikulan
The Frying Pan