Norquist’s Finest Hour

One of the most famous pledges made by politicians in order to win office was that of Grover Norquist which comprises of two promises: to oppose "any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and businesses" and to oppose "any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates."

Editorial of The New York Sun
November 26, 2012
NY Sun

One of the moments we’ll never forget in our long newspaper career is the way the editor of the Wall Street Journal, Robert L. Bartley, stood on principle in his break with President George H. W. Bush over taxes. Reagan’s successor had just put out the budget that broke his most famous campaign promise. The vow — “Read my lips. No new taxes”— had been made at the Republican National Convention in 1988 that nominated Mr. Bush for president and helped him win the White House. It became one of the most famous declarations in American political history. Once in office, Mr. Bush betrayed the pledge. The Journal washed its hands of him in an editorial that, figuratively if not literally, opened the transition to the Clinton era.

We’ve been thinking of that moment as the Drudge Report ticks off the list of senators who are abandoning, or saying they’re prepared to abandon, the tax pledges that helped them win office. The most famous of these pledges is the one published by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. It’s been one of the most effective campaigns in American politics. The pledge comprises two promises. One is to oppose “any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and businesses.” The second is to oppose “”any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

A fundamental point of the pledges is that they are not made to Mr. Norquist or his organization. He merely keeps track of them. They are pledges to the legislators’ constituents and to the American people. So it is just breath-taking see someone like, to name but one, Robert Corker, the Republican senator of Tennessee, being quoted as saying that, since he’s been elected to a new term, he’s “not obligated” to the pledge. Same for Peter King, the Long Islander of whom we’ve been a long-time admirer; what in the world is he doing joining with Senator Chambliss in suggesting that he’s not committed to the pledge he made to the voters of New York.

What is someone like Mr. King, who holds one of the positions in the Congress that places the highest premium on integrity, doing hinting that he won’t keep his pledge to his constituents in respect of taxes? Is he, or are any of the potential pledge breakers, of the opinion that the problem with our government is a lack of revenues? Our government is swimming in revenues, and they have been rising every year and are projected to keep on rising. It seems to be the view of these pledge breakers that what the economy needs is a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. To which one can but say that the pledge has its value even in its breaking, because it gives the voters a device by which to keep track. It’ll be Mr. Norquist’s finest hour.

To them all we would say remember 1937. That was the depression within the Great Depression. For a while it looked like things were trending for the better. FDR bought the 1936 election with unprecedented spending, just like President Obama did in 2012. Then came a cutback in spending and an increase in taxes, and the country promptly went into the most brutal downturn of the whole 1930s. The liberals, and a handful of Republicans, are all trying to make Mr. Norquist the goat in all this. If we get a 1937 type event because of tax increases, they’ll be singing a different tune. The left likes to say that it was the war that finally pulled us out of the Great Depression. The alternative today — read our lips — is tax cuts on the margin, deregulation, and a move to sound money.

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