The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age

    How Does Grover Norquist...Do It?

    This isn't about sex.

    It won't be a lot to read, either. I don't have many answers or constructive thoughts, but I do have a lot of questions. Questions are a lot shorter to write down.

    (Plus, I write all day for a living, so it isn't exactly a release for me.)

    There are a lot of facts about our politics that I've come to take for granted. They form the background of my awareness, so I seldom think about or question them.

    But sometimes, a piece of this background tableau will break off like a piece of arterial plaque and land in the foreground of my thinking and provoke a question.

    In this case: How does Grover Norquist do it?

    By "do it," I mean how does Grover get hundreds of Republican politicians from diverse states and backgrounds to sign and adhere to his "no tax pledge"? I don't know if that's the proper name for it, but it's something like that.

    (The Susan B. Anthony folks do that with their no abortion pledge, but I think they're a little less successful.)

    Here's this unelected guy... the head of a small organization ...with no popular constituency I can see ...commanding talented, powerful, often wealthy and well-connected adult men and women to sit, lie down, roll over, and beg for his imprimatur.

    How does he do it?

    And--for extra credit--why can't we do it in the name of our principles?



    An excellent question. From NewsMax, so take it with salt, but it rings true to me...

    If Norquist is going to work against a particular GOP politician or a particular law, it would be hard to find many D.C.-based GOP operatives who would question or stand in his way. He operates as a key bridge or link between the GOP’s business community and the GOP’s social conservative community. He hosts a weekly Wednesday informational meeting attended by all the GOP’s power players in his Americans for Tax Reform office.

    A more in-depth article from Mother Jones:

    That said, persuading Republican candidates to adhere to a no-tax pledge probably isn't all that difficult. If one of them balks, all Norquist has to do is advertise it, and they're constituents will punish them.

    But why is it, then, that we don't have an equivalent set of principles which, if a politician fails to adhere to them, "his" constituents will punish him?

    It's as if we, the constituencies who elect Democrats, have these principles, but we don't really believe in them all that much.

    I guess this is really the conversation we've been having around Obama and whether to support him, etc.

    And I guess a conservative might say that Bush departed from real conservatism and didn't get punished for it.

    But it does FEEL at least as if conservatives are better able to crack the whip and make things happen.


    If Norquist is going to work against a particular GOP politician or a particular law, it would be hard to find many D.C.-based GOP operatives who would question or stand in his way.

    And why don't WE have someone with this kind of power to enforce discipline? "You don't want to extend UE benefits? I'm sure your out-of-work constituents will interested to know this."

    And why don't WE have someone with this kind of power to enforce discipline?

    I'll offer a few thoughts on that.

    First, as has often been noted, the Democratic party is a bigger tent than the Republican party.  This has its advantages and its drawbacks.  One of the latter is that efforts to "enforce" particular policy commitments (and which would those be?  Defending Social Security and Medicare, up until now perhaps, might come closest) run what is arguably a greater risk of driving people out of the party.  See my second point below, about Democrats being less authoritarian than Republicans.  Democrats are more likely to bolt or not join the party, and react defiantly to authorities seen as trying to enforce a party line they don't agree with on a particular item important to them than are Republicans.  You'd have thought that with all the anti-gay marriage and same-sex partner, and "abortion is murder and should be criminalized", energy on the Republican side that there would be far more open talk from the most committed advocates on these issues of leaving the Republican party given what, to their way of thinking, have been deeply disappointing results.  But not so.  They stay in the tent and they have moved policy on some hot-button social issues, abortion policy notably, farther in the direction they want, over decades.

    Second, Republicans and conservatives are more authoritarian in their outlook and behavior than are Democrats and liberals.  (I highly recommend Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, 2009, by Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler for backup on that claim.)  Put another way, Republicans are generally just more willing to fall in behind their leaders and accept direction and authority than are Democrats.  Bill Clinton made a similar point when he said (paraphrasing, but close)  "Democrats want to fall in love with their President; Republicans fall in line behind their Presidents." 

    I suggest that a quick survey of comments here at dag and at any number of other places in the blogosphere would tend to confirm that view.  Democrats are as a generalization not only more diverse in their views but are more skeptical and more likely to see skepticism, questioning authority, as more of a good than a bad thing.  As it is in many contexts.  Just not necessarily when it comes to building a well-oiled, effective political party that is able to act more in concert with one another than its opposition is able to do.

    One of the ironies of Hetherington's empirical findings is that the Republican cartoon caricatures of Democrats as somehow this menacing would-be totalitarian, liberty-stripping crowd would be comical if they weren't so effective in mobilizing believing party supporters peddling that nonsense.  The opposite is closer to the truth.  Democrats are much closer to anarchy than totalitarianism, not just in the way they(we) function, but in what we believe and in our greater apparent valuation of, and interest in, dissent (Will Rogers' quip about not belonging to any organized political party, being a Democrat as he was).  Democrats are barely able to agree on anything in any way that matters, that results in widespread citizen actions that move politicians. 

    Where Democrats do come together it is almost always as a defensive reaction, in opposition to some proposed horrible thing the Republicans are trying to do, such as cut Social Security or Medicare.  Democrats rarely get energized and come together and work together closely in support of positive ideas.  There were groups active on health care but no group anything like AARP, say, in numbers or impact.  Where is the massive grassroots group beating down the doors demanding that Congress pass a meaningful, effective carbon emissions bill?  It's only the future of the planet that's at stake, after all.  There are groups doing that, don't get me wrong.  It's just that they are relatively tiny and not in any way seen by politicians as capable of offering either decisive political support or opposition on that issue.     

    It's fascinating to me that the political party that philosophically attaches far greater value to social solidarity for the society at large is so lacking in it as a political party.  Unless and until that changes, I think the prospects for getting far on a progressive policy agenda are not terribly promising. 

    Genghis wrote awhile back that unless and until Democrats decided on a policy of primarying conservative to moderate incumbents or challengers with progressives the party would continue to fall short of having enough progressive votes in Congress to pass progressive legislation.  I think he was quite correct about that.  Citing the Republican party's history on this and assuming a parallel, he said that Democrats would also have to be prepared to lose many an election having nominated the more progressive candidate, but that over time if the party stuck to that strategy it would work in the sense of making the party more consistently progressive.  In my experience Democrats have a hard enough time agreeing on what they're going to do today and tomorrow, let alone committing to a multi-year, maybe multi-decade plan that they are also committed to and able to implement.  

    Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that the Republican party, as the preferred party of big business, would tend to have more strategic, long-range capacity to make and implement plans.  Doing that is more conducive to the culture of the GOP.  In any case, they've done that in many crucial respects and as a result they have built a formidable infrastructure that supports the party's objectives, such that they don't even need to nominate impressive presidential candidates but regularly are able to make lemon candidates look enough like lemonade to win elections they have no business winning based on their ideas and record.

    Amen, brother.

    Little did I know when I jumped from the repub ship I was headed for chaos.

    And now I find myself stuck with chaos. There is no way I can go back to being a repub. They stand for everything in this country that I find abhorrent - greed, selfishness, self-righteousness, a lack of empathy or compassion, bigotry, greed, stupidity, mindlessness...the list goes on and on.

    And yet I find myself in the middle of a party that can't summon the backbone to stand up to them. WTH?

    Apparently we can win elections when they do something so egregious that the majority of the population just can't stomach them any more, but our memories are so frickin' short, and we're so afraid of actually having to DO something, or can't agree on WHAT to do, we just can't wait to give the reins back to them again. Here we are in the midst of potentially the largest demolition of the social safety net in history, when EVERYONE knows the super wealthy are laughing their asses off as they watch the masses of people (with everything to lose and nothing to gain) defend them, and we're about to cave to those #*&%#@*# AGAIN.

    I'm absolutely disgusted. And that along with a buck and a half will buy you a crummy cup of coffee. But I've got nowhere else to go.

    Forgot to mention that the article you posted on the right side "What if Repubs Take Yes For An Answer?" was excellent.

    I agree with Dreamer with the caveat that Republicans aren't inherently small tent and authoritarian. They have become that way over the past four decades.

    In the 1970s, Republicans were more diverse than Democrats. They had pro-welfare, pro-choice, pro-gun-control liberals in the party. The party platform explicitly acknowledge divergent opinions within the party on abortion.

    Democrats have gone the other way. Third rails like Social Security and Medicare aren't third rails anymore. Pro-business moderates are more welcome. There is more tolerance for anti-abortion and anti-gun control views. Harry Reid, for example, could never have been majority leader back then.

    Why the role reversal? There has been ideological evolution, but there have also been human drivers--people like Grover Norquist. He's one of many over the decades--Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie, Stephen Moore, Rush Limbaugh, the Koch brothers, and others less well known. They have launched campaign after campaign to purge first liberals and then moderates from the Republican party.

    They're quite open about the strategy. They fund right-wing primary challengers to run against any Republican legislators deemed insufficiently conservative, heedless of whether the challenge costs Republicans the district. Over the years, they have helped unseat all the Republicans liberals and almost all the moderates. Now they're knocking out conservatives who aren't conservative enough--anyone, for example, who won't sign a no-tax pledge.

    Liberals don't do it. Ever since Reagan, they have focused on winning districts in the next election, and they're willing to accept anyone who can win--hence the Blue Dogs.

    So basically, liberals need some Norquists of their own.

    But there's a catch. At the same time that they were purging, the right-wingers were also recruiting. For example, Weyrich founded the Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority. These organizations honed a political message that appealed to conservative Democrats. As a result, the Republicans made up for losing the Northeast by winning the South.

    If liberals just start purging without recruiting, they'll just create a permanent minority. I expect that the economic populist themes that people have been expressing around here will be part of the recruiting process. But as I've said before, I think that they also need fresh ideas--and aggressive organizations to promote those ideas.

    When you combine the pocketbook benefits with righteous appeals to what is seen by some as a bedrock moral principle it shouldn't be surprising that there is plenty of support for this. 

    If the question is why is Grover the point person for the GOP on this issue, rather than someone else?  The simple answer may be close to right--he got there first, he does his homework, is organized, has developed trust relationships with all the key players, and is very effective at what he does and seen as such.   

    My two pennies, anyway.


    It's not so much "why Grover" as a particular individual, but how does Grover do it.

    Put another way, why isn't there a liberal Grover--and why isn't the liberal base able to control our Congresspeople the way conservatives, via Grover, are able to do?

    Put still another way, it seems conservatives are very good at getting their politicians to implement or stand up for conservative principles. Grover is the symbol of this and an agent for this.

    It's hard for me to imagine a liberal equivalent arising.

    I think it's because nobody knows what "liberal principles" are any more when it comes to hard, cold bread & butter issues.

    In addition, he's making them swear to give lollipops to everyone.   It's not like he's forcing them to cut off their right arms in the name of saving the Republic.

    Extra-credit answer: We can't do it, because our President doesn't believe in lollipops.


    So our principles require self sacrifice ...and their principles get them lollipops.

    Just keep sucking.

    They get lollipops and if you qualify you can have a (public) teat.

    They get the spoils and you get what trickles down.

    Every repub President or repub candidate I ever heard of pledges no new taxes.

    Nordquist is just an extremely competent lobbyist for corporate interests. Oligarchists just love giving the guy money.

    But we pledge lots more spending and help and other stuff.

    In fact, in the general discussion, it is Democrats who are seen as buying votes by handing out goodies.

    Why doesn't that buy some loyalty? It used to, but no more.

     “The Republican and Democratic parties, or, to be more exact, the Republican-Democratic party, represent the capitalist class in the class struggle. They are the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principles.”

    The BLIND working class questions WHY.

    The leaders of both Capitalist parties listen to Norquist, because he speaks to what they believe. The leaders of “the political wings of the capitalist system” are looking for the same spoils and both parties leadership, is paid by the same Capitalists.

    Norquist speaks for the Capitalists.  

    And--for extra credit--why can't we do it in the name of our principles?

    Who can do anything to promote your principles?

    “Ten thousand times has the labor movement stumbled and fallen and bruised itself, and risen again; been seized by the throat and choked and clubbed into insensibility; enjoined by courts, assaulted by thugs, charged by the militia, shot down by regulars, traduced by the press, frowned upon by public opinion, deceived by politicians, threatened by priests, repudiated by renegades, preyed upon by grafters, infested by spies, deserted by cowards, betrayed by traitors, bled by leeches, and sold out by leaders, but notwithstanding all this, and all these, it is today the most vital and potential power this planet has ever known, and its historic mission of emancipating the workers of the world from the thraldom of the ages is as certain of ultimate realization as is the setting of the sun. Debs.

    The Capitalists aren’t going to relinquish their power.

    Obamas not going to interfere either

    They’ll just find another McCarthy.

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