It's been brewing for a while. There have been rumblings about Grover Norquist and his ties to corruption. Some of that corruption has hurt real people.
Norquist is an anti-government activist who has produced real results over the last quarter century ever since Ronald Reagan asked him to found Americans for Tax Reform. He led privatization efforts in California. He's been the driving force in defeating state legislators in West Virginia. On federal, state, and local government, his demand is clear. "I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub," he says.
He has been the author of The Pledge, a promise now routinely subscribed to by Republicans vowing to oppose taxes. All taxes.
And he has had ties to Jack Abramoff. Yes, THAT Jack Abramoff. The businessman and prolific lobbyist who became synonymous with political corruption. As politician after national politician was led off in handcuffs, the Abramoff scandal spread like an oil slick.
For years liberal gadfly types have been talking and writing about the Norquist-Abramoff connection. Ari Berman, who writes for such progressive publications as Rolling Stone Magazine and the Nation, and author on his own, pretty much leads on this one.
Just a few years ago he was a central player in the Jack Abramoff scandal, using his connections to launder nearly $1 million from Abramoff’s Indian tribe clients to conservative activist Ralph Reed and Christian anti-gambling groups who were fighting a proposed state lottery in Alabama, according to an extensive report by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
“Call Ralph re Grover doing pass through,” Abramoff wrote in an e-mail reminder to himself in 1999. In return, Norquist’s organization, Americans for Tax Return (ATR), took a piece of the cut. “What is the status of the Choctaw stuff?” Norquist wrote to Abramoff that same year. “I have a 75g hole in my budget from last year. ouch.”
It's a sign of the continuous rock-and-hard-place environment that the GOP has become that Norquist remains a heavy hitter. More than that, the weight of his influence is increasing.
What's a Republican candidate to do? If you don't go along with the increasingly bizarre demands of the extremist base, you lose a primary and get retired. If you do go along, it gets harder to win the general election with a constituency that is occasionally sane.
One possibility is rebellion. It usually hasn't worked really well. Conservatives once regarded as bastions of dependable right wing starch are now routinely challenged on the suspicion of insufficient extremism. Still, every once in a while, someone tests the water. Perhaps it is preferable to try bucking the far, far right in order to survive the November battle that follows. As when Frank Wolf (R-VA) took to the house floor this week.
My conscience has compelled me to come to the floor today to voice concerns I have with the influence Grover Norquist, the president of the Americans for Tax Reform, has on the political process in Washington... Reasonable people can disagree on the merits of pledges – and I respect those differences – but the issue is with the interpreter and enforcer of a pledge...
Everything must be on the table and I believe how the "pledge" is interpreted and enforced by Mr. Norquist is a roadblock to realistically reforming our tax code. I understand that some may not agree with what I say today. I also know many are not aware of Mr. Norquist’s associations, but my conscience compels me to speak out.
Only a handful of fellow Republicans have joined Representative Wolf in declining to sign the Norquist anti-tax pledge. Everyone else has signed and hopes for the best.
This is not the only stand Republicans are required to take, officially and on record. In May, all but 4 Republican members of the US Senate voted to end Medicare and replace it with a voucher system.
But the anti-tax pledge has a face. That the face belongs to Mr. Norquist seems to make it scarier.
So will Republicans sign these crazy pledges and take their chances in the general election, or will they choose to defy the base and face challenges that could keep them from appearing on the November ballot at all?
One aspiring GOP candidate has found a third alternative. Michael Baumgartner (R-WA), a candidate for the US Senate, signs pledges then insists he didn't actually mean it.
He signed one pledge that covers a lot of bases. It "includes some off-the-charts conservative tenets: Privatize Social Security; abolish the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; eliminate the Department of Education; withdraw from the UN; return to the gold standard; ending no-fault divorce."
“I made it clear that I had some reservations,” and that “there was an understanding that I didn’t support everything on the pledge.
Well, it's different: a candidate who is honest about ... well ... his own dishonesty. It's Mitt Romney on an overdose of truth serum. It's kind of the reverse of the standard of 150 years ago propounded by Simon Cameron. "An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought."
Ronald Reagan sometimes made fun of that sort of thing.
You know, there is a story that actually happened involving a defeated presidential candidate.
He was called before a Senatorial committee to testify on a federal policy. He spoke out in defense of that policy.
Then one of the Senators said to him, “but that isn’t what you said when you were running for president?”
He protested, “those were just campaign promises. I really didn’t mean them.” If he was expressing a political truism – it is one I cannot follow.
I ran on certain Issues and made certain promises, and I have to believe the people agreed that these were the issues and those promises would be kept.
Would-be-Senator Michael Baumgartner may admire Ronald Reagan, but he follows the Mitt Romney example. He firmly endorses an extremist pledge, even signing his name. But it's okay. He didn't really mean it. If you look closely at the signing ceremony, you'll see.
He had his fingers crossed.
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