Friday, July 15, 2011

Never say never: How Republicans put themselves into a box

Republicans aren't negotiating to solve the debt crisis.
This animated cartoon by The Washington Post's Ann Telnaes may illustrate their fate:

The difficulty for many Republicans arises from their loyalty to Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), a group headed by Grover Norquist, who once said, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." Most Republicans have traded their responsibilites to their constituents for loyalty to Norquist and ATR. Brian Rosenberg, writing in The Minneapolis Star Tribune, had this to say about ATR and Norquist, in part:
The most powerful figure in today's Republican Party is not John Boehner or Mitch McConnell. It is not Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan. It is not even Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin.

It is, of course, Grover Norquist, the man with The Pledge.

Norquist, who has never held elected office, is the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, a group whose pledge not to raise taxes under any circumstances has now been signed by hundreds of Republican candidates and officials at both state and national levels.

And they do mean "any circumstances." Enormous budget deficits? No. A country at war? Nope. Famine and plague? Sorry.

Our grandmothers kidnapped and threatened with death until and unless we raise taxes, as Norquist was asked recently by Stephen Colbert? Well, answered the unflappable Norquist, we always have our memories and our photographs

(Colbert was being characteristically satiric. There appeared to be nothing satiric about the response.)
Rosenberg then asks a simple question:
Americans for Tax Reform asks every candidate for elected office on the state or federal level to make a written commitment to their constituents to "oppose and vote against all tax increases."

Every member of Congress, upon taking office, is asked to swear an oath to "well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter."

Here is my simple question: Which "pledge" takes precedence?

Brian Rosenberg is President of Macalester college, and his complete article is "Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge undermines democracy."

After realizing what the Reublicans' no-tax pledge is doing to the country, many papers are now editorializing against dangerous, foolish pledges. An editorial in USA Today, "Our view: Candidates who sign pledges outsource their brains," about pledges in general, closes with:
Whether they come from the right or the left, these sorts of pledges are recipes for gridlock, such as the current standoff over raising the national debt ceiling. The vows stop politicians from working out compromises with colleagues who disagree with them. Isn't that how democracy is supposed to work?

Elected officials owe their allegiance to their constituents and the Constitution, not interest groups bearing pledges. The only pledge we'd like candidates to endorse is simple: Don't sign any pledges.
A Michael Gerson opinion in The Washington Post, "The danger in political pledges," states, in part:
The imposition of oaths beyond the Constitution also assumes a certain theory of representation — the belief that politicians are merely mechanisms for the expression of public sentiment. They are, in this view, computers to be pre-programmed for desired outcomes. When Edmund Burke was presented with a similar argument, he agreed that the opinions of constituents “ought to have great weight” with a representative. “But his unbiased opinion,” Burke continued, “his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living.” This exercise of judgment, he argued, is not consistent with “authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience.”
Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, writing in The Washington Post, said, in part, after Republicans withdrew from talks with Vice President Biden, late last month:
It is now clear that the Republican strategy is to drive America to the brink of fiscal ruin and then argue that the only way out is to cut spending for the powerless. Taxes — a dirty word thanks to Norquist’s “no new taxes” gimmick — are made to seem beyond the pale, even as the burden of paying for our society shifts disproportionately to the middle class and working poor. It is the height of fiscal folly. It is also not who we are as a country.
It is the height of fiscal folly, because it ignores one-half of this simple equation: expenditures = X multiplied by revenues, where 'X' may be a fraction, one, or larger than one. Republican attempts to solve the problem by ignoring the right-hand side of that equation, by refusing to increase revenues, give away their ignorance and innumeracy. Many Americans know what Republican tax policy has done to our society -- they experience its effect through stagnant wages, spiraling healthcare and education costs, unemployment, and crumbling infrastructure -- even if they haven't yet connected cause and effect. Should Congress allow society to further deteriorate to satisfy a pledge to Grover Norquist?

Republicans' fealty to Norquist is a syptom of their inability to think outside the box, their lack of ideas, their inability to negotiate -- in short, their political immaturity. By surrendering their minds to Norquist, they don't have to think, don't have to debate, and don't have to compromise, anymore. They have made themselves unfit to live in a democracy.

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