Grover Norquist and me

When I interviewed the architect of the anti-tax pledge

Grover Norquist is now famous, even infamous.  As the architect of the anti-tax pledge, he played a role in stopping Republicans from agreeing to any tax increases whatsoever, thus dooming a big anti-deficit deal.

But back in 2003, when I interviewed him, while he was certainly known in Washington circles and by political wonks, he had received little publicity.

I went to see him to ask him about his efforts to rename public places for President Reagan. At one point, I was very interested in holidays and commemorations and cultural products of various sorts and I published a number of articles related to the topic.

In a Washington, D.C. research trip largely focused on the National Museum of American History’s September 11 exhibit, I also set up a few interviews with people who especially celebrated Reagan’s presidential legacy.

This included Grover Norquist. He had created a group called the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, which was “housed” along some of his other enterprises, most prominently Americans for Tax Reform. I’ve placed housed in quotation marks because there was no sign that any particular space in the ATR offices was devoted to the Project.

When I got to the offices, it was clear that this was not a place that threw money at its quarters. Rather than some other conservative organizations or lawyer or lobbyist operations where I’ve done interviews, the place looked like a town’s insurance agency with lots of desks and partitions. Out in the waiting room, Norquist’s assistant told me that he would be awhile.

I passed the time by picking up copies of daily talking points for conservative office-holders and movement conservative operatives. That’s what they looked like and it became very clear that these were exactly what they were since, when I went back to my hotel that night, every conservative on political shows used exactly those talking points and phrases. 

When I eventually got to meet and interview Mr. Norquist, I found a man who simply could not sit still. After talking to me from his desk, he arose and quickly moved over to an exercise ball and starting rocking back and forth. In the forty minutes or so we talked, he stayed in one particular location for at most ten minutes at a time.

At one point, he took a phone call and started excitedly telling the person on the line (a reporter, he told me when he got off) that the Bush administration was going to pass one tax cut a year.

Every year of the administration, another tax cut. 

It turns out that was not to be.

By the way, he was certainly not happy with my Senator, Olympia Snowe, who had already made it clear that she would not support the second Bush tax cut.

Along the way, I also got to hear about how naming buildings and airports and the like for Ronald Reagan would serve to educate Americans about the president’s anti-tax views and his foreign policy of standing up to the Soviet Unon.  Norquist told me that he expected children passing the DC airport to ask their parents, “Who was Reagan?” and they would learn of his positive accomplishments. 

What struck me then and which I recall quite vividly was his passion and intensity, along with his restlessness.

But despite his inability to stay in one place physically, Norquist has been relentless in pursuing his goal of avoiding tax increases and seeking tax cuts.

Now, even as the American public strongly supports tax increases for the upper income by a 67-32 margin, as part of future budgets, Republicans, nearly all of whom signed the Norquist pledge, will not vote for those revenues.

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.