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Here, GOP, Is Your Problem

Look, it doesn’t require developing love for trial lawyers or tax increases to recognize that this kind of stupid, mindless, red-meat crap from Grover Norquist is a big part of the GOP’s problem, not the solution to its problems. These guys are like ghosts who don’t realize they’re dead. They just keep saying the same things over and over again, because that’s all they know to do. And they mistake partisan audiences hooting over these stale applause lines for popular support.

Hey Republicans, listen to US Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a commonsense Nebraska Republican and strong social conservative, who told me for TAC [5] earlier this year:

RD: You broke party ranks last year by refusing to renew your pledge not to vote for any future tax increases. Since when do Republican congressmen dare to defy Grover Norquist?

JF: My responsibility is to make judgments about hard, complex issues that I believe to be right. Simply looking at the status quo and suggesting that the tax code is sacrosanct and can never change, and that decisions made in the ’80s and ’90s can never change, is absurd. The tax code is weighted toward the ultra-wealthy and ultra-wealthy corporations, and has created an offshore aristocracy of people who can afford to hire an army of accountants and lawyers. This shifts the tax burden to small businesses, entrepreneurs, and others. I don’t want to see taxes go up on any hardworking American. We need a simpler, fairer tax code. Removing special-interest loopholes could potentially increase revenues and allow for lower rates.

We’ll know the Republicans are serious about change when they start standing up to ideological enforcers like Norquist in public forums and telling him where to get off.

UPDATE: Norquist plays roughly the same role in GOP circles that the odious Jesse Jackson used to play in Democratic circles. For Jesse, it’s always Selma 1965; for Grover, it’s always Washington 1981.

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32 Comments To "Here, GOP, Is Your Problem"

#1 Comment By Tyro On November 15, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

An insightful comment I read lately was that the educational system and the job market reward people who learn to do something over and over again very well, rather than rewarding problem solving. And that is what Norquist’s problem is, and that is the problem that a lot of Republicans have– what they have learned to do well is make a compelling case for tax cuts and deregulation, knowing that doing this well translates into votes. What they’re NOT good at is figuring out how to craft a messages and policies that solve our problems and appeal to voters.

And for the most part, why would they? The skill that republican politicians have been rewarded for, both with press coverage, choice post-career-sinecures, and successful elections, has been about pushing tax cuts, deregulation, and hostility to trial lawyers. “Problem solving” is not a skill that is being rewarded.

#2 Comment By Tyro On November 15, 2012 @ 12:22 pm

I should add to my comment that the republicans are good at complaining about hippies and fighting 60s-era culture wars, as well. But the well is dry with that one. You can be successful politically in changing times if all you know how to do is take a set of issues, run them through a pre-written talking-point-and-policy-matrix, and spit out the cliched solutions that you ran on 30 years ago.

#3 Comment By SDS On November 15, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

I have less problem with Norquist spouting his cause; after all, he is a citizen and has his soapbox. I have more problem with the party leaders demanding allegiance to those positions; or any other loyalty test; as a price of support. If more congressmen had a bit of a backbone and decided and argued their positions; rather than had them decided for them; we’d probably not be in the quagmire we are in. AND that goes for TAXES; and ABORTION; and MEDICARE; and IMMIGRATION; etc….ad nauseum.
The GOP would be a bit less stupid; as would the Dems.

#4 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 15, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

Giving Norquist all the dignity he deserves about his ideas and opinions: I believe we should all call him a bigot for his hateful comments about trail lawyers. They serve an indispensible service to hikers and campers since all the cutbacks in forest and park service employees.


#5 Comment By TT On November 15, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

Do you think it’s OK for the GOP to work to scale down the size of the federal government?

(And its intrusion)

#6 Comment By reflectionephemeral On November 15, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

Am just a bit too young to remember Jesse Jackson at his peak power, so I can’t comment on how bad he was. It’s fair to say, though, that he never held the sway in the Democratic Party of Sam Nunn & Daniel Patrick Moynihan that Norquist does today, with the parties sorted ideologically & behaving more like unified parliamentary parties.

#7 Comment By zanamu On November 15, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

For what its worth, Fortenberry may have “repudiated” his stupid pledge, but you can’t tell by the way he votes. He’s trying to have it both ways, since he has to appeal to more liberal voters (that would be liberal for Nebraska, not the USA) in Lincoln, which is surrounded by your red-meat conservatives. They were furious about the repudiation, but as long as he reliably votes their way, which he does, they won’t primary him. Not exactly a “profile in courage” but that’s not what we’re growing in Nebraska these days.

#8 Comment By RD On November 15, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

This is the most important thing you’ve ever written! Repost it EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!! Needs to be heard and heeded!

#9 Comment By steve in ohio On November 15, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

Agree with most of your criticism, but to give credit where credit is due, Norquist is one of the few big names to call for defense cuts. Most of the Congressional GOP want to lower or keep taxes where they are, increase or leave the defense budget untouched and cut entitlements–surely a recipe for future successes.

#10 Comment By M_Young On November 15, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

G. Norquist is also among the most fanatical of GOP open-borders ideologues.

#11 Comment By Outsider On November 15, 2012 @ 1:35 pm

Possibly the main reason why Republicans maintained control of the House was because of gerrymandering after the 2010 census. As they, and the Tea Party wing, won big in 2010, they got to call the shots in most states when congressional districts were redrawn. Hence, as Norquist recently said on C-Span, he expects the R’s to maintain a House majority for ten years. If true, then expect to have divided government until 2022.

If Norquist is correct, then it would seem that House R’s have little reason to negotiate with the President and Senate. This long-term gridlock could be devastating to the country as things change very fast in the modern world, which is completely different from that of our 18th century forefathers, whose made-up system we are still living under. I hope more and more R’s refuse to sign that little man’s pledge.

#12 Comment By Tyro On November 15, 2012 @ 1:51 pm

Jesse Jackson actually won several primary contests in 1988. How many voters can Norquist deliver?

#13 Comment By KMT On November 15, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

All the Republican hand wringing, wound licking, and scab picking is starting to sound to me like Pappy O’Daniel lamenting his fate with his political advisors. They know they don’t have a “constichency” and know they’re getting beaten, but can’t figure out why, and can’t figure out whether they’re getting their behind paddled or kicked: [6]

#14 Comment By Beyng On November 15, 2012 @ 2:16 pm

I don’t know. As I grow older, I can see the wisdom in my grandfather’s solitary voting rubric, and the exhaustive extent of his political principles: never vote for higher taxes. Never vote for the candidate/party/platform that will raise your taxes. Never.

Now, he was no idiot (in fact, he was the most common-sensically prudent men I ever knew): he didn’t “try to have ti both ways” by voting for juicy spending programs and entitlements. He knew the unspoken requirements of his axiom. In fact, it was simply common sense that never voting for more taxes meant, effectively, that one was voting for a limited public budget.

I see no problems with this axiom, and I may or may not employ it myself. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not necessarily endorsing Norquist or ideological rigidity, but what I read in your post, Rod, is an implicit endorsement of higher taxes (maybe I’m wrong?). But a few minutes of sober analysis should show that, as Republicans are wont to harp upon, we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem. You could tax 100% of the salary of every living human being in this country and you wouldn’t solve our problems.

#15 Comment By Veritas On November 15, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

In fact, it was simply common sense that never voting for more taxes meant, effectively, that one was voting for a limited public budget.
That would be true if we didn’t have a method of creating revenue out of thin air. As it stands, the “fiscal conservatives” whose political ideology revolves around cutting taxes also insist on spending exorbitant sums of money on Medicare, Social Security, and military adventurism.

#16 Comment By Eric K. On November 15, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

In the comments section of the blog post about the Dubya List I recommended Norquist without giving my reasoning. I later read Rod saying he wouldn’t post any more comments from people who didn’t give their reasoning so I thought I’d go back today and give my reasoning for Norquist. This blog post saved me the the time.

But I will add that what solidified me in my position that Norquist needs to be abandoned is the fight he had with Sen. Tom Coburn a year or so ago about ethanol tax credits. Coburn, like the reasonable conservative he is, wanted to get rid of them because they’re just a big giveaway to agribusiness (for the most part). Norquist objected to Coburn’s attempts and said it would violate his “no tax hikes pledge” because Coburn didn’t also demand that some other tax be lowered simultaneously so that the whole thing would be revenue neutral.

Norquist’s position was that he’d rather see a market distorting corporate tax subsidy exist than eliminate it if it meant one more cent of increased revenue for the federal government.

#17 Comment By Marc On November 15, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

I know most of the pundit class (like Daniel) likes to castigate Grover Norquist and his no tax increase as “stupid” or extreme. This is a rhetoric trick where you call your opponent’s position as extreme and your’s as reasonable. The fact is Democrats are just as “extreme” in their position that there be no real spending cuts (not just cuts in growth) or substantially restructuring all the Federal government’s social welfare programs. Furthermore, conservatives have to view any promises of spending cuts in exchange for tax increases with a lot of skepticism. Any tax increase will stay on the books permanently. Spending cuts can easily be undone in future appropriations bills. There is no statutory obligation to follow through with the spending cuts. Daniel doesn’t address this at all. I despise Republicans but the Democrats are just as reprehensible in my opinion.

#18 Comment By Austin Bramwell On November 15, 2012 @ 3:15 pm

Great post.

#19 Comment By cka2nd On November 15, 2012 @ 3:44 pm

Marc says: “Any tax increase will stay on the books permanently.”

If this were true, then where did the Bush tax cuts come from? And all the cuts in the capital gains tax rate over the years? And all of the cuts in the top income tax rate over the years?

#20 Comment By BN On November 15, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

Ya notice how no one talks about the GOP plan to starve the beast anymore? Given the huge success of the Bush tax cuts, you’d think they’d get some credit.

#21 Comment By Sam M On November 15, 2012 @ 8:20 pm

“when they start standing up to ideological enforcers”

I think I asked this before, but does this sentiment mean that there are no standards at all? No basic set of beliefs that it requires to be a conservative or, more directly, a Republican? In there anyone who doesn’t qualify? Any issues which would merit an enforcer?

Let’s say Jesse Jackson was running for office but got beat in the Democratic primary, and then decided to try to get on the Republican ticket. Would the people in that local party organization be justified in calling him a RINO? On what basis?

I certainly think they would. But this presumes that there is some basic set of beliefs. How do you decide? Is it some sort of “six out of 10” test? Is there any belief that, in and of itself, is disqualifying?

#22 Comment By Linda On November 15, 2012 @ 8:35 pm

TT says:

“Do you think it’s OK for the GOP to work to scale down the size of the federal government?

(And its intrusion)”

I have a problem with ideologies. My preferred method is to consider “does it work” and is it fair/beneficial to the majority of Americans.

I do not want money given to those that have the ability, but refuse to use it. I do want a consideration to the fact that some people are born with much lower ability or have medical issues that prevent rising above poor or low income despite there best efforts.

I have problems with Walmart and other companies that pay low wages and no not provide adequate health insurance, yet the Sam Walton family are at the top of the list of most wealthy Americans. Many Walmart employees receive Medicaid for health care. It means taxpayers are paying to make the Walton family more wealthy, which I think is immoral.

I think the government should protect people from greedy immoral people rather than the ideology of limiting government. There always needs to be a balance that is often difficult to achieve, but sticking to an ideology while fellow Americans suffer or die from inadequate health care does not work in my opinion.

#23 Comment By Rod Dreher On November 15, 2012 @ 8:44 pm

Sam: I think I asked this before, but does this sentiment mean that there are no standards at all? No basic set of beliefs that it requires to be a conservative or, more directly, a Republican? In there anyone who doesn’t qualify? Any issues which would merit an enforcer?

It’s a good question. My basic answer would be that there are a series of issues that define the differences between conservatives and liberals, and it’s perfectly reasonable to expect coherence, and to enforce discipline as a general matter. What I find objectionable is when someone like Norquist insists that if one doesn’t agree with his position on taxes, they are to be anathema in conservative ranks. I’m pro-life, and want and expect the GOP to be a pro-life party. But I don’t want the GOP to exclude people who agree with me on, I dunno, 75 percent of other issues because they disagree with me on abortion, even though I consider it a fundamental issue. Similarly on taxes. The GOP should be a party that’s skeptical of tax increases, but to believe that taxes must never, ever be increased, no matter what — well, that’s putting ideology over common sense.

#24 Comment By Rod Dreher On November 15, 2012 @ 8:47 pm

Beyng: I see no problems with this axiom, and I may or may not employ it myself. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not necessarily endorsing Norquist or ideological rigidity, but what I read in your post, Rod, is an implicit endorsement of higher taxes (maybe I’m wrong?).

I don’t endorse higher taxes in principle, but nor do I reject them out of hand. It depends on the circumstances. I voted for a tax increase here in my own parish this spring, for the sake of building a new library. I don’t want to pay higher taxes, but for the sake of a new library, which will benefit everyone, I was willing to do that. There’s a house down the street from me that, every election season, puts up a sign that says “VOTE NO.” We get a kick out of that, because whoever the homeowner is, he’s opposed to everything. But sometimes taxes are prudent and necessary. I think one’s default position should be against new taxes, but that it shouldn’t be an absolute position.

#25 Comment By Scott Locklin On November 15, 2012 @ 8:54 pm

This is utter nonsense. Grover (or whoever wrote it; twitter is moronic and I refuse to participate in understanding it) is absolutely correct. Nobody in the US disagrees except for trial lawyers and party flacks.
Of course, there is no serious GOP initiative to reduce the power of the legal profession over the democratic process and ordinary citizens, but it would certainly be popular if someone were to take this up, and it would certainly strengthen the hand of the GOP, who doesn’t benefit from lawyers the way the Democrats do.

#26 Comment By Surly On November 16, 2012 @ 1:44 am

Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” said somebody pretty smart. Norquist’s mindles insistence on no increase in revenue, ever is the best evidence I have ever seen of a little mind at work in the big world.

He deserves to be laughed off the stage and then grabbed with a great big hook when he proves he is too stupid to recognize the laughter and leave of his own accord.

#27 Comment By philosopher On November 16, 2012 @ 4:37 am

“What I find objectionable is when someone like Norquist insists that if one doesn’t agree with his position on taxes, they are to be anathema in conservative ranks.” There are two, at least conceptually distinct, notions of flexibility relevant here. One is the one flagged in Rod’s comment above: the flexibility allowing some diversity of views to count as “inside the tent”. But another one, perhaps equally important, is the flexibility of what policies one is willing to vote for _even when one doesn’t approve of the policy in its own terms_, in order to get something else that one wants. E.g., even if one thought that taxing capital gains as normal income were less-than-ideal policy, would one be willing to vote for that change in tax policy, in order to get someone else’s vote for, say, increased autonomy for religiously-based charter schools? (Or whatever — not that anyone has put that particular deal on the table — it’s just meant as an illustration, so you can plug in your own version of what might be an attractive X-for-taxes deal.)

The problem with Norquist’s pledge is that it not only narrows the conditions on factional membership, but also it forecloses on major possibilities for cross-factional dealmaking of the sort that allows work to get done in a closely divided Congress. (I.e., every Congress we’re ever going to have for the foreseeable future.) Of course, for Norquist, that’s a feature, not a bug.

#28 Comment By Tyro On November 16, 2012 @ 4:41 am

I think one’s default position should be against new taxes, but that it shouldn’t be an absolute position.

You can only cut down on spending if you take this attitude and then make new spending dependent on new taxes. If you take the attitude of “no new taxes, ever”, then eventually there will be a time when you HAVE to spend money on something, and you will just put it on the national credit card because raising taxes to pay for it is not an option. Keeping open the possibility of raising taxes allows you to make the rational trade offs about whether you NEED to spend that money or not and are willing to pay the political consequences of paying for that spending in the form of tax increases.

No one seems to want to admit this, but there is a 100% guarantee that a government will need to spend money on something. Whether it’s a library, roads, a war, or a national bailout during a crisis, money will have to be spent. So at some point along the line, money to pay for those things will need to be found. If politicians were willing to ask themselves more often, “How much is this spending worth risking my political future for by facing the reality of taxes to pay for it?” you’d see more fiscal prudence.

#29 Comment By BCaldwell On November 16, 2012 @ 8:30 am

I think that we can agree with Norquist on the premise that society would be better off if we put all the trial lawyers in a bag and floated them down the Potomac. Where Norquist has a problem is his insistence that we starve the beast that is government. Norquist’s position on taxes is that we should return to a time prior to 1905 when the economy was growing on average at 8%. Of course he fails to recognize that depressions were much more frequent at the time. There was no social safety net and the United States had a military that was maybe the size of Romania.

Norquist is opposed even to tax reform. He wants to deny the revenues in and of themselves. He hurts the Republican cause more than even he or many of his adherents know. Republicans have to be more than just being the party of protecting the well to do. They have to recognize that there is not a budding entrepreneur hiding inside each and every person…some people are very content in being employees or as my father sometimes called them Intrapreneurs…good employees who add value to an enterprise. If the Republicans can show the guy who humps 50-60 hours a week to bring home 40-50K how their policies would benefit him , leave him with more each month, not bankrupt him on heath insurance premiums (and other aspects of heath care), college education that does not force their kids into a level of debt servitude that is getting to a point of being truly obnoxious then they may be on to something

#30 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 16, 2012 @ 9:10 am

Only dead fish go with the flow 100% of the time.

— Source unknown.

#31 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 16, 2012 @ 6:10 pm

Locklin: I also disagree.

#32 Comment By L617 On November 17, 2012 @ 5:58 am

Saying Jesse Jackson, even at the highest point of his influence within his party (88-92), is the liberal equivalent of Grover Norquist is simply wrong. Norquist can pretty much decide whether any member of the GOP keeps his seat. If Norquist decides you’ve been unfaithful to him, he will pour enough money into a primary candidate to make life difficult for any dissenter. Jesse Jackson was, at most, a wind bag with a soap box who never held such sway over fellow Democrats.