26 November 2012
The party of Grover Norquist?
In the weeks following the presidential election, Republicans have been debating amongst themselves how to rehabilitate their image for the majority of voters. The debate has focused on some Republicans' realization that many Americans believe that Republicans hate them. This year really ran the alarm bell for the GOP because Mitt Romney was perceived as hating people for class reasons, rather than for reasons of race, religion, gender, etc. Alarmed Republicans have said that their party needs to choose between outreach and rabble-rousing, preferably by repudiating those divisive personalities most suspected of hating people for any reason, no matter how beloved those personalities may be by the party's primary base. Lost in this confusion of recrimination is another, perhaps more immediate choice the party faces. The weekend's news featured reports of Republican legislators repudiating the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" of perpetual opposition to tax increases. The Pledge was the brainchild of Grover Norquist, who promises, in barely veiled terms, primary challenges for any Republican who breaks his word. On CNN yesterday, Norquist specifically rejected the argument of Rep. King of New York, who had suggested that the Pledge was appropriate to an earlier time and different economic conditions, but ought not to be binding today. For Norquist, resistance to high tax rates is an eternal principle grounded in timeless economic truths. Tax cuts, in his view, were the foundation of the "Reagan recovery" of the 1980s, preferable in terms of rapid re-employment to what Norquist perceives as a tax-hobbled "Obama recovery." He still upholds the premise that lower tax rates result in greater revenue, since lower taxes encourage economic growth, and growth means more income to tax at the old rate. The essential assumption is that growth is inevitable if not constant so long as government doesn't impose disincentives to investment. Rep. King's skepticism toward the eternal relevance of the Pledge is understandable. King himself presumably remains a kind of fiscal conservative, but just as some Republicans now seem to realize that conservatism shouldn't come with a presumption of hate, King and his fellow GOP apostates indicate that fiscal conservatism need not be synonymous with the supply-side dogma preached by Norquist. Supply-sideism in modern times is founded upon the coincidence of economic growth and tax cuts during the 1960s, but presumes a correlation applicable in all times and under all circumstances. From that perspective, as another writer asserts, if you want economic growth tax increases are always wrong. This columnist puts the choice for Republicans in the starkest terms; he calls on the GOP to fight tax hikes "to the death," since giving in to Obama would be "economic suicide." Most observers believe, however, that going over the "fiscal cliff" would be economic suicide, unless we can grab a tree branch on the way down. The centrists demand a "grand bargain" of tax hikes and cuts to entitlements, albeit a combination of the two less drastic than would come automatically should we go over the "cliff." Norquist and his acolytes would have the Republicans challenge Obama to a chicken run to the cliff's edge, hoping that the President will chicken out first and capitulate to a cuts-only plan. On their planet they don't need to compromise any more because they've done all the compromising so far by acquiescing in the closing of loopholes, while Obama, despite the critical perceptions of the activist left, has done no compromising at all. I can't imagine that even many Republicans actually believe that. The question now is: what do they believe? If they blame their losses this year on a perception that they hate people, they should also consider the perception that they place ideology before national interest. They may accuse Democrats of doing the same, but there's always something more concrete in Democratic ideology because they always claim to be looking out for the weak and the needy, while the GOP has to argue the trickier proposition that the rich and secure need government's care, albeit by government restraining itself. If Republicans want to win over more people, they might try convincing those people that they care for people more than ideological economics -- that their patriotism is loyalty to the people, not loyalty to dogma. If that means risking primaries with fanatic challengers backed by Grover Norquist, then it's up to Republicans to decide whether the GOP is their party or his.