Haven’t you heard? Our blessed Republic is under attack by a shadowy, maniacal puppet master bent on eating newborn children and murdering poor folk.
In recent months, one cannot read a single newspaper without encountering tales of woe about the evil Grover Norquist his tax pledge. We are but the slaves of a madman reminiscent of Lex Luthor or Ra’s al Ghul, bent on bringing the world to its knees.
He’s an ayatollah! He’s holding America hostage! He’s an ideologue bent on world domination!
Okay, maybe not that last one, but I wouldn’t be surprised to read it if a deal on the fiscal cliff isn’t reached by Christmas.
What is all of this hullabaloo about Norquist on his pledge? What the hell is the pledge anyway? Is it a legally binding contract? Is it some sort of blackmail?
Well, no, it’s just a pledge. So why all the fuss? Why is Norquist being cast into the pit of shame? Is it because he is using some sort of sleazy, underworld tactic that would make Capone blush? Again, no, he’s just sticking to his principles and there is nothing Washington hates more than principles.
You see, if Republicans want to, they could tell Norquist to go hell and raise taxes to their heart’s content. They could join Obama on his pious crusade against rich people and bring top marginal tax rates up to 90% without breaking a single law. No, the pledge is not a law.
They don’t take that route, or at least don’t want to, because they have to answer to the voters if they do and they know it. The pledge is just a formal way of Republican politicians to swear to their constituents that they won’t raise taxes.
Of course, if they break the pledge, then Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform will proclaim their betrayal in their home districts for all of the voters to hear. Nevertheless, they are free to abandon the pledge at any time.
Norquist’s power is less of direct power and more of a clever seizing on the ambition of Republican lawmakers. Pledging to never raise taxes scores excellent political points in an election. Not taking it seriously? Well, that is the fault of the lawmaker, not the pledge.
I will not deny that Norquist’s pledge has been effective in guiding Republicans away from tax increases. In fact, its effectiveness is beautiful and makes all of the hostility going his way hilarious. What everyone is complaining about is that Republicans may actually be held accountable on something. When this promise is put on paper and thrown into the spotlight for all of the electorate to see, well, that can be pretty damn powerful.
Again, though, his power is indirect and dependent upon the Republican base being opposed to taxes. That is the beauty of it — he is just playing the role of making sure the voters know when Republicans throw their promises out the window.
This is something that champions of democracy, like the majority of the American left claims to be, should respect and embrace. Norquist is playing hardball for sure, but he is doing in in lockstep with the principles of representative government. He is affecting the environment of Republican lawmakers to make sure they actually do the representing part.
The left will never admit this. I’m sure they know that the pledge is nonbinding, but in framing the debate they need a villain and Norquist fits the bill. If they can get popular opinion on their side, they can make breaking the tax pledge politically popular and null its effectiveness. Again, Norquist’s pull is dependent on the extent voters want to keep taxes from going up.
I disagree with Norquist on a number of issues, but I have to respect the guy for so effectively keeping politicians accountable. The liberty movement could learn a thing a two from his method. It is an example of the power that is getting politicians on the record.
More to the point, though, is the question of whether or not taxes should go up. The short answer is no and the longer answer is hell no.
Taxes have absolutely zero to do with our problem and taxes on the rich even less so. You could tax the top 10% for every dime they are worth and we’d barely run Washington for a single year. The problem is spending, spending, spending.
Obama knows this. The DNC knows this too. They also don’t care. They are actually brilliantly turning an issue that should have been a home run for Republican politicians against them. Focusing on raising taxes on the rich to “help reduce the deficit” is ingenious. It won’t work to actually reduce anything to a level necessary to fix out fiscal situation and, more likely, the new revenue would be used as an excuse to increase spending.
What it will do, however, is make Democrats look like the ones who are coming to the table to fix the fiscal situation. They are making the electorate think they are doing something proactive and making Republicans look like the ones who really don’t care about the deficit in one fell swoop. Any spending cuts agreed to will, of course, be promised cuts to be implemented at some point after the recession which means that they won’t happen ever.
Exquisitely executed politics.
Of course, another self-induced problem the Republicans face is that the fiscal cliff cuts from military spending and they couldn’t bear to allow this to happen. The influence of the military-industrial complex is just as evident as Norquist’s pledge. This is undoubtedly what is causing some Republican lawmakers, notably neocon hawks like Sen. Graham and Rep. King, to express willingness to break ranks and ignore the pledge.
Indeed, real conservatism has few proponents in DC and the politicians that hold strong on being fiscally conservative get stripped of their committees. The leadership has little desire to do anything more than damage control. They dropped the ball and muffed this whole issue and now Boehner needs to be able to raise taxes in the least damaging way. Having people who he knows will not play ball is not something he wants to deal with. He is in between a rock and a hard place. If taxes go up, Republicans get the blame. If we go over the fiscal cliff, Republicans also get the blame.
In the end, Obama and the Democrats will get their way. The fiscal cliff will be avoided. Taxes will go up, the pledge will be broken, and spending will continue to skyrocket.
Republicans will probably come out with nothing. And if they break their pledge, they will deserve it.
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