Monday, January 17, 2005

A few thoughts about Nicholas Confessore's article on Social Security in The New York Times Magazine (I mean, besides the obvious, which is "We're about to get reamed!"):

* The article leads off by introducing us, once again, to Grover Norquist -- the huge influence he has over the party that controls all three branches of the federal government, the snotty comments he makes ("Norquist mused to The Washington Post that the city might become less bitter and fractious now that the Democrats had been more or less neutered. 'Certain animals run around and are unpleasant,' he noted, 'but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate'"), you know the drill. This is the same thumbnail sketch of Norquist you've read any number of times if you pay any attention to politics. And yet Confessore says, accurately,

Though Norquist ranks among the Republican Party's leading operators, neither he nor his organization [Americans for Tax Reform] is quite yet a household name.

Now, why is that? Because the "liberal media" doesn't operate like the conservative media -- it doesn't seize on Norquist and make him a household name, running nasty story after nasty story about him until every non-conservative in America, even the ones who know little or nothing about politics, know that he's the guy who wants to take all the tax money that now goes to national parks and Social Security and Pell grants and hand it off to rich people by the truckload. And Democrats never talk about him either. This guy really might be the fourth or fifth most powerful person in America. Who the hell is he? Did you elect him? Has he ever appeared on any ballot? It would be an interesting story, but most of America will probably never learn it. Air America is all very nice, but we need some people with real skills at stirring up populist outrage to tell stories like Norquist's. We need people who can get the message across to the unconverted -- and first, obviously, we need people who know enough to try doing this in the first place.

* It's been said about Bill Clinton that his presidency was, on balance, a big net minus for our side and for the Democratic Party, because his stumbles led to the election of a seemingly permanent GOP majority in both houses of Congress, and perhaps to the loss of the White House in 2000. But Confessore suggests that it's even worse than that: He hints that Clinton's election in '92, all by itself, may have been the best thing that ever happened to the psycho-ideologue wing of the GOP. Confessore writes about a pledge never to raise taxes that Norquist has gotten many Republicans to take since 1985. The first George Bush made the commitment and then, of course, broke it:

"Had Bush broken his pledge and gotten re-elected, it would have made the Pledge much less valuable, maybe completely worthless," Norquist told me. "But because the most famous pledge-taker-slash-pledge-breaker lost re-election, on that subject, it's had an effect."

You mean we could have neutralized Norquist and his thugs merely by reelecting Poppy Bush? Oy...

* And about that "Pledge":

This was a promise, first circulated by Norquist in 1985 and originally signed by more than 100 members of Congress, never to vote to raise tax rates.

...1990 was the last year any G.O.P. politician at the national level voted for any income-tax increase, period....

In the years since Bush's defeat, Norquist's way of thinking about taxes -- that they should be cut whenever and wherever possible -- has become the central tenet of American conservatism. Currently, the Pledge has been signed by 222 members of the House and 46 Senators, which includes pretty much every Republican in both chambers. It has also been signed by Bush's son President George W. Bush...

You know what? I don't ever want to hear a word about the Democratic Party's alleged ideological rigidity on, say, abortion. Not when the Republican Party marches in lockstep this way on taxes.

Here's what I gather from this: If there's another 9/11 -- even a 9/11 that makes the first one pale in comparison -- the ideologues who dictate GOP tax policy will still insist that no Republican ever vote to raise taxes. They'll do this even if a nuclear device is detonated in a large U.S. city; they'll do it if we have to wage another full-scale war. And Republican elected officials will defer to their wishes.

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