Grover Norquist is either having the worst few weeks of his life or the best.
It’s hard to tell. His anti-tax pledge—and the immense power he’s wielded in Washington, D.C., for decades because of it—have become hotly debated topics among Congressional insiders and Hill watchers who wonder if its days are numbered.
If Republicans agree to raise taxes to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, it will be a reluctant compromise, I’m sure, but also economically dangerous. It will also be because grown-ups have decided that the good of the country—and indeed the good of the party—mean that the ends justify the means.
Pledges of this nature—and Grover’s isn’t the only one—seem decidedly silly and easily broken, whether codified or not. Democrats pledged this year to fund their convention solely with individual donations, and then promptly took millions in corporate cash.
The problem with politics isn’t a lack of pledges. It’s a lack of willpower. On *OUR* part. Politicians break promises all the time. And we have a handy system in place to deliver consequences—vote the bums out.
Pledges are also infuriatingly self-important. When the stakes are merely an endorsement, one starts to wonder if we’re operating under a monarchy or the defunct spoils system, where loyal underlings are rewarded for good behavior and dutiful complicity.
Finally, they are, for the most part, redundant. Few Republicans would argue with the need to lower taxes or for the imperative to raise them. Who among them would argue about the need to cut spending, cap spending levels and balance the budget, as was directed in the “Cut, Cap and Balance” pledge? Or to promote a pro-life agenda, as the Susan B. Anthony project required? Committing to obvious pledges at the barrel of a gun seems to say more about the paranoid solicitor of the pledge than the signatories.
I know Grover, and I get it. Taxes are a tyranny, and starving the beast is not only a moral and political imperative, but sound economic policy. His is an important mission.
But purity tests take on a life of their own, failing to recognize changing social and political realities, and hemming in a party that shouldn’t make sweeping and momentous decisions based solely on one narrow piece of doctrine.
Promises are important—keeping them is even more important. But the political pledge is becoming a nuisance and an albatross. It’s time to put the pledge to bed.