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Published: Saturday, 12/1/2012

Breaking the pledge

GroverNorquist occupies an odd position in American politics. He is not an elected official, but he arguably has had more influence over elected officials than anyone else — for he is the giver and keeper of “The Pledge.”

That promise binds the faithful to the most holy tenet of conservative ideology: Thou shalt not raise taxes. Mr. Norquist’s role as a political puppeteer draws strength from his role as president of Americans for Tax Reform. For years, almost every Republican in Congress has taken the no-tax pledge — until now.

The pledge has run into a hard piece of reality in the form of the so-called fiscal cliff — the harsh across-the-board spending cuts and reinstated taxes that will occur if Congress and President Obama can’t reach agreement on deficit-reduction measures by the end of the year.

It is generally agreed that the deficit can’t be conquered by spending cuts alone, but will also require new revenues (read: taxes). So those who took the pledge have painted themselves into a corner. How can they reach a compromise when one of the options is forbidden to them by their own rash promise?

In what might have seemed heresy until recently, some Republican pledge takers are having second thoughts. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee says the only pledge he intends to keep is his oath of office. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia says he cares more about his country than sticking to the Norquist pledge.

Of course, the test will come when the results of the negotiations are known. The truth of the old saying “never say never” is confirmed by this crisis.

It is one thing for a politician to promise to do everything possible to avoid raising taxes, and to do so only as a last resort. It is another to wreck the country for the sake of ideological purity. That hard-earned wisdom is no friend of Mr. Norquist and his unrealistic promise.



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