EASTON, Md, July 29, 2011—The debt ceiling wars will end in one of two ways, either we don’t raise the ceiling and sink the economy, taking us all down with the ship of state, or we do, and the economy will continue to stagger about like a drunken sailor.
It’s a lose-lose proposition for everyone, Republicans, Democrats, the President, and the America people. That is except for one man: Grover Norquist. Either way, he has achieved what he set out to do.
Thanks to him, Republican Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had to retreat from making a compromise with President Obama with the Grand Plan that included enhanced revenues (translation: raised taxes).
Then Norquist made sure his minions in the House held firm and held Boehner’s feet to the fire: No More Taxes. Ever.
Finally last night, feeling empowered to further challenge the Speaker, the freshmen Representatives resisted their leader whether he cajoled or strong-armed them. They refused to budge and vote “yes” on Boehner’s proposal.
“No deal is the best deal” is their mantra. The country be damned.
So however the debt ceiling crisis is resolved, Norquist will have gained immense power, reaped oodles of respect for his political acumen, and be more dangerous than ever. Just who is this Svengali who manipulated the naifs in Congress with his no more taxes pledge?
You may never have heard of him, much less knew he had some weird hold over the Republican Party. Not that he would care.
Drowning the Government
Norquist brags that he seeks only one thing: to shrink the size of the government until he “could drown it in the bathtub.” After Thursday night’s GOP debacle, Norquist’s latest success, may now make it possible for him to just flush it down the toilet.
So how did this guy, who Jane and Joe American never even knew existed, become the de facto head of the Republican Party? (Make no mistake about it, he is. Not Boehner, not Cantor, not any of the Republican candidates.)
Norquist actually did it the old fashioned way, by becoming a GOP stalwart, starting with the Nixon presidential campaign when he was only 12. Born into a wealthy family, he graduated from Harvard University and Harvard Business School, and his Republican theology is mother’s milk.
By 1985 he was an economist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and so highly thought of by Republicans that President Reagan picked the then 29-year-old to head up Americans for Tax Reform (still his signature organization), a lobby group to pursue just that, tax reform for the wealthy, lowering their tax rates.
To make sure that Congress in the future would not reverse any of the Reagan tax cuts, Norquist drafted the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which is what 235 members of this Congress signed along with 41 senators, for a grand total of 1,200 federal, state, and local Republican elected officials. Among the GOP presidential aspirants, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann have already signed his pledge.
To break the oath to Norquist and his group is to suffer the consequences: a primary challenge, organized voters, the wrath of the Tea Party activists, and campaign money drying up. He and his followers love to single out the defeat of President George H. W. Bush, who had signed the anti-tax pledge, and then had to raise taxes.
As Norquist so quaintly puts it: “Take the pledge, win the primary. Take the pledge, win the general. Break the pledge, lose.”
Then there is Norquist’s weekly Wednesday meetups with 150 elected officials, political activists, and movement leaders. If you are a Republican, it’s the place to be. If you want “inside,” it’s the only place to be.
Over the years ATR has been a steady wind blowing the Republicans towards the extreme Right, but with the emergence of the Tea Party, that gale became a cyclone, sweeping away Republican moderates and installing the likes of the 87 GOP Congressional freshmen who had no trouble signing the Norquist oath.
In fact, they would rather not raise the debt ceiling, no matter what, because they don’t believe the experts, much less their own party leaders, who say it could be catastrophic not to do so. That truculence was on full display Thursday night.
GOP Moderates Are History
One time moderate-Right Republicans like Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) learned a hard lesson last year when fellow Utah Senator Bob Bennett was defeated in a primary by diehard right-winger Mike Lee, who as Utah’s newest senator doesn’t want the debt limit raised unless there is a Constitutional amendment requiring Congress to have a balanced budget.
Senator Hatch has now veered severely to the Right, adopting Lee’s stance. This is the same Hatch who once worked closely with liberal Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) to get significant legislation passed.
By putting their names to Norquist’s No Taxes Ever pledge, the Republicans have signed away their souls. They cannot compromise with the Democrats. They can’t even compromise with themselves. If the debt ceiling crashes around their heads, the GOP will get the blame. They know that.
However, if they break with Norquist, their scalps will be hanging on his wall in 2013. And they know that too.
Conservative humorist P.J. O’Rourke sums up Norquist better than most pundits: “Grover Norquist is Tom Paine crossed with Lee Atwater plus just a soupcon of Madame Defarge.”
As we now know, there is no hope for a balanced, much less nuanced, approach to settling the debt ceiling crisis. The argument now centers on whether Congress is even capable of raising the debt ceiling.
Norquist has won handily.
Now he is ready for his next target, the President. As he told the National Review Online: “He’s [Obama] like a kid caught shoplifting in a candy store, and we’re making him empty his pockets on the way out. Forcing him to give it all back now is like him losing the next election already.”
That is what it is all about for DC’s “dark wizard of the Right” (Arianna Huffington), electing the next president, a Republican president.
One who will sign a pledge to never, ever raise taxes. One who will saddle the Constitution with still another frivolous amendment for a balanced budget. One who will be beholden to Norquist and his willing vassals. One who will drown the government in the bathtub.
It means a President who would take an oath to uphold Grover Norquist over the Constitution.
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