It seems fair to say that, as recently as a month ago, you could have walked down any city street, rural road, back-country byway or meandering cowpath in the entire nation, asking everyone you encountered the highly newsworthy question, “Who is Grover Norquist?” and you would wear out many, many pairs of shoes before getting even one accurate answer.
Now, however, this Grover (the activist who still has a job, unlike the unemployed Muppet formerly appearing on Sesame Street) is on everyone’s lips, the object of this month’s two-minute hate from liberals and the recipient of everything from staunch support to quavering rejection from the right, depending on how committed the respondent is to the party’s long-standing campaign against raising taxes.
Readers of this column, of course, know who Norquist is: He is the human embodiment of the idea that a dollar taken out of a taxpayer’s wallet should be spent with as much wisdom as possible and be used for purposes that the private sector either couldn’t do or could only do less effectively than government.
And, of course, to be a conservative is to think that the categories of human endeavor encompassed by the government-must-do-it metric are extremely limited in scope.
Therefore, Norquist has for some decades now gotten hundreds of candidates for federal office to sign his double-faceted “No Tax Pledge,” which asks politicians to:
“ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses, and
“TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
Note that there is nothing in that pledge that prevents changes to the tax code, adjusting deductions and credits enough to warm to any tax attorney’s shriveled little heart, as long as the bottom line remains the same.
But there appear to be some people who claim to belong to the party of fiscal responsibility who think that they can buy some popular class-warfare-style favor by showing fervor for “making the rich pay their fair share.”
Here’s a question for those folks: If having the top 1 percent of taxpayers pay 37 percent of income taxes or the top 5 percent pay 59 percent or the top 50 percent pay 98 percent isn’t “fair,” then what the Hades is?
Of course, the current rates aren’t “fair,” they’re “progressive.” Which is to say, “Grossly unfair in ways that liberals like.”
“Fair” is when somebody makes a dollar and a fixed percentage of it goes for necessary government work. And treating one dollar any different from any other dollar just because one person makes more of them is the utter epitome of unfairness.
It’s letting the government say that there’s something wrong with hard work or wise investment, so it needs to be penalized. And a government that says that needs desperately to be changed.
But that’s the ideal, not the current reality. Until we reach that happy day (and who knows, it might be just one really big economic collapse away, if the current crowd keeps leading us astray), we need to look at what’s actually going on.
On one side, the newly empowered administration and its allies in the Senate seem to think that they can demand anything they want, even going so far as to repeat the old promise that it will demand tax hikes right now in exchange for the promise of spending cuts (and, even more important, entitlement reform) later.
Why, there hasn’t been an offer that attractive since the wolf told Little Red Riding Hood she was a person of good taste, with the unspoken proviso that he meant the last two words in reverse order.
George H.W. Bush believed it when Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell promised it to him, and the end result was that Bill Clinton wolfed down his lunch in the 1992 election.
No, we’ve heard all that pay-now, be-responsible-later sweet talk before, and all conservatives got out of it were some fang marks and wolf drool on our picnic baskets.
But that hasn’t stopped GOP Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rep. Peter King of New York from saying they don’t feel bound by their promise to those who elected them.
That’s just what the party needs: Four more prominent members who can’t be trusted to keep their word.
Oh, no, the spenders say: It’s not that they are changing their minds just for political advantage. The country really needs higher tax rates on the wealthy to get out of the deep fiscal hole that we’re in.
To which conservatives should be saying, “Hey! Who was it who put the country in that hole to begin with? Why should liberals run up five straight years of trillion-dollar deficits and then tell conservatives they have to help pay the bills—especially when those liberals won’t do anything else to bring down the deficits they rang up?”
Speaker John Boehner and other House leaders, facing a proposal by the president to raise taxes $1.6 trillion while promising to consider reducing spending by $400 billion later (right!), and under media pressure to “be responsible,” submitted a plan to the president on Monday that would restructure Medicare without changing anyone’s current benefits to improve the program’s long-term health.
In addition, the GOP would raise revenues by $800 billion over the next 10 years by capping and reducing deductions while not raising tax rates and save “hundreds of billions” by trimming other programs.
The White House response? “No tax rate hikes on the rich, no deal.”
That in itself only deserves a two-word answer, which I can’t print here. Use your imaginations.
It’s clear that we need not go any further down the dead-end road the Obama administration is trying to force us to follow.
But that would take courage on the part of our leaders, and adherence to principles.
And they would have to keep their promises.
Forget anybody else’s lips, folks. Voters need to tell our leaders, “Read our lips: No new taxes.”
Instead, cut spending. Oh, and then cut spending. And then cut it again. Not with the sequester meat-ax; that was always an unserious effort. Do it intentionally and rationally, privatizing wherever you can, and preserve as government functions only the programs private enterprise can’t do that we need the most, specifically including defense.
You must do this, and do it now—because conservatives have run out of patience, and America has run out of time.
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:firstname.lastname@example.org.