What I find very perplexing about this current round of deficit hysteria is the fetishization of Grover Norquist the person. Norquist’s “Taxplayers Protection Pledge” is an important force in American politics, but mainly because Norquist simply found a way to perfectly summarize and tap into a pre-existing phenomenon.
Norquist didn’t make taxes unpopular, he just gave politicians a simple two-sentence tool to exploit the opposition many voters already had to higher taxes.
Republicans politicians aren’t afraid to violate the pledge primarily because they fear Norquist will personally take them down; they are afraid to violate it because it would be deeply unpopular with their base and their donors. The Republican base oppose tax increases even on the very rich. The reason that so many Republicans signed the pledge is because the basic idea is so popular with rank and file Republicans.
Even if Norquist never existed, Republican politicians would still have a strong incentive to oppose taxes.
I like to compare Norquist’s pledge to a pledge to never shoot a panda. Any member of Congress who walked down to the National Zoo and shot one of the giant pandas would see their political career ruined, whether or not they signed a “no panda shooting” pledge. Their problem would be that shooting a panda is deeply unpopular. The fact that they broke a pledge about it would be only a very minor secondary concern.
Right now the issue isn’t whether or not Republican members of Congress will defy Norquist by agreeing to higher taxes, it is whether or not they will defy their base and their donors. They are what really matter.
Photo by George Lu under Creative Commons license.