For as long as there has been a United States, people have been warning about its demise, usually at the hands of a foreign power. England wanting its colonies back, Mexico wanting its land back, Yellow Peril invasions from Japan, China, or North Korea; Germans invading, Soviets invading—the list seems endless.
So it seems really incongruous that the real damage to our country—what has brought it closer to ruin and collapse than any foreign army has been able to—was an inside job.
And not from the conventional bad guys; not from Commies in the White House, Socialists in the State Department, or Atheists in Congress.
The actions that crippled our economy, shuttered our factories, decimated our education system, stripped our jobs away, forced our people out of their homes, and annihilated their life savings were largely the results of a small group of domestic Conservatives, mostly Republicans, presenting itself as patriotic and pragmatic.
And these actions that have caused so much havoc and despair, and continue to do so, came largely from a right wing advocacy group calling itself Americans for Tax Reform, headed by one man, Washington, DC, lobbyist Grover Norquist.
If the idea that one man, especially one who has never been elected or appointed to any government office can have so much influence over the other 300 million of us seems bizarre, it helps to recall the plaque that Chuck Colson (former Special Counsel in the Nixon white house) had on his office wall, saying that “When you’ve got ‘em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”
And then consider that the grip that Norquist has on Republican office holders and office seekers is on parts even more tender: their careers. Simply put, Grover Norquist is the man who controls the donations and the donors. Companies and groups with causes to present and money to donate attend one of Norquist’s invitation-only Wednesday morning meetings and make their case.
Office holders and seekers get funds after they sign Norquist’s Americans For Tax Reform Pledge, where they promise to always oppose any and all efforts to increase taxes and reduce deductions.
So, at first look, what’s not to like? None of us want to pay more taxes, right?
To find the Devil, consider the details.
So, who is Grover Norquist?
He’s a Washington, DC, lobbyist, and lifelong Republican activist, former business partner of Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed, and has been investigated for using his tax-exempt organization, Americans for Tax Reform, for money laundering.
He is on the Board of Directors for the National Rifle Association, the American Conservative Union, the Indian-American Republican Caucus, ParentalRights.org, GOProud, and sits on the six-person advisory panel that nominates Time magazine’s Person of the Year. He also helped the Heritage Foundation draft Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America in 1994. He founded and runs the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, whose goal is to “see a statue, park, or road named after Reagan in all 3,140 counties in the United States.”
Norquist despises government in any form, particularly Federal Government. This appears to be an attitude learned from his father Warren, a vice president for Polaroid Corporation (an odd point of view, considering Polaroid’s heavy volume of Federal contracts).
This attitude is illustrated by Grover’s famous quote, “Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.”
He is also fiercely anti-union, particularly since they tend to fund Democrats. He supports tort reform because it means “trial lawyers have fewer ways to get rich and can’t give as much money to the Democratic Party”, and supports free trade, which further weakens unions’ influence.
He staunchly supports school vouchers, since it means both more revenue for the private sector, a weaker government role, and weaker unions.
So, what makes him special?
Thus far, what we have is an ideological zealot with his fingers in many political and financial pies. Nothing, really, to set him apart from similar zealots.
What does set him apart, and what makes his fanaticism so terribly harmful to the rest of us are three points. First, he is not only opposed to raising taxes, he is actually opposed to anything that raises government revenue. That’s a subtle difference but a real one, because taxes in the classic sense aren’t the only way to raise revenue. You can also close tax loopholes, for example. Norquist considers that to be the same thing as a tax increase and is against it.
Second, is the large amount of undisclosed money he raises and spends. ATR refuses to name its contributors, although his lobbying firm does work for the tobacco, casino, and liquor industries and it’s reasonable to assume that ATR benefits from this corporate largesse.
Also, he appears to be getting substantial money from the Koch Brothers groups (about 34% of ATR’s total revenues), and from Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS (about 32% of ATR’s total revenues).
Third, is the complete ruthlessness he uses in dealing with pledge-signers who don’t toe the line on every vote every time; this brings us back to the “hearts and minds” part of the process.
Office holders who do not vote along approved lines may find themselves facing attack ads in their next primary, and in some cases opposition candidates from their own party, funded unashamedly by Norquist. A recent Boston Globe article describes the hallway outside his office covered with “Least Wanted” posters of ads he has run against officeholders who, in his opinion, broke their commitment. He told the reporter that he planned to raise and spend $10 million to elect “team players,” even if it meant replacing current office holders.
So, how does this affect us?
The picture so far shows Grover Norquist to be not much more than a well-dressed street thug. One of those people Garrison Keillor describes as “brownshirts in pin stripes.” Just like the local mob enforcer will break your store window if you don’t pay your protection money (or your kneecaps, if you’re really stubborn), Norquist will cut politicians off from their funding or ruin their careers if they don’t go along with what he wants.
How this ends up on our front porches shows up in how his minions vote on issues that are really important to most of us.
Funding for our schools? Grover doesn’t like public schools. Vote no.
Funding for our public parks? Grover doesn’t like government on any level. Vote no.
Oil extraction fee? It’s a tax. Grover doesn’t like taxes. Vote no.
Asking rich people to pay their fair share of the costs? It’s a tax. Grover doesn’t like taxes. Vote no.
And so it goes, with nearly every issue that makes our lives a little bit comfortable or enjoyable, or that lets us get ahead of the game a little bit. If it can somehow be defined as a tax, and Grover doesn’t like taxes, the Republicans will vote no.
Now, consider that nearly every Republican in Congress, in our State Assembly and State Senate has signed this pledge. Along with Republican county supervisors and Republican city council members, school board members, water district members, and on down the line. For more information about Americans For Tax Reform, including a list of signers, see their web site, noted below.
Now, consider that Grover has satellite ATR chapters in nearly every state that mimic his Wednesday morning meetings, putting moneyed Conservative agendas together with Conservative politicians who want the money.
And on it goes, all over the country; and since there’s no room for compromise, nothing will be solved, and the show goes on forever.
Sweet deal for Grover. Sweet deal for his minions. Sweet deal for his financial backers.
It’s like in the old Jerry Reed song, some folks get the gold mine, and some just get the shaft.
Ain’t politics wonderful?
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