One of the more striking features of the 2012 Presidential election in the United States was the refusal of any Republican candidates for any office to support, at least publicly, any sort of new taxes of any kind. Whether it was in the initial debates leading up to the primary season, or in the debates between Governor Romney and President Obama, the Republican argument was that all deficit reduction should come from reductions in spending rather than adding any new revenue streams to the government. The person behind this motif in the campaign was the one who shaped politics in the nation during 2012, and as such he should be the Man of the Year. His name is Grover Norquist.
Grover Norquist is one of the most conservative libertarians (and one of the most libertarian conservatives) in all of American politics. The president and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, he also promulgated the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” which bound its signatories to stand up against increases in income tax rates for businesses as well as individuals, as well as any closing of loopholes without a concomitant drop in the applicable tax rate (Dixon, 2012). It was this pledge that drew the line between Republican and Democrat in race after race, across the nation.
As his undergraduate career drew to a close, Norquist went to the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia, a think tank that teaches Americans of a conservative stripe the best ways to influence public policy by becoming active in local politics. Soon after college, he became the executive director of the College Republicans' national organization, as well as the National Taxpayers' Union. He also became the Chief Speechwriter for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. His early political involvement was not strictly limited to taxation, though; he went to war zones around the world in the late 1980's to provide support against the Soviet armies, to support the work Oliver North was doing with the contras in Nicaragua, as well as the work of RENAMO (in Mozambique) and UNITA (in Angola) to fight back against the Soviet influence in those countries (Miller, 2012).
These activities brought Norquist to the attention of Ronald Reagan who, according to Norquist, asked him to form Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). After he formed this group, he began to raise the groundswell of public opinion that would rock the party to its very foundations in the tumult leading up to and during the 2012 election. While the guiding goal of Americans for Tax Reform is to cut federal revenues as an overall percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP). When President Clinton began to prepare his own health care initiative in 1993, Norquist started the highly influential Wednesday Meetings, which brought together the top conservative political minds available in the capital for a weekly salon, discussing the best strategies for conservatives going forward (Miller, 2012). It became the place for Republican operatives to network from week to week.
The nation exhibited a fairly strong response to Norquist's work in regard to cutting taxes. He was the darling of the Tea Party, which would take the vast majority of federal government and through it into a blender, if it could. However, the nation as a whole appeared to take a slightly different view of the situation, leaning more toward belief in the pending fiscal cliff and the economic dangers of those changes that would come. However, Congress would not budge one inch in the months before the November 2012 elections, and seems slow in budging even as the cliff approaches, in large part because of the effects of Norquist. He threatened to hold Republican officeholders to their pledges by campaigning actively against them if they go back on them (Marshall, 2012). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has blamed the lack of progress on the deficit to date on the work of Norquist, and there are some Republicans in the party who have more tenure have had time to reflect on Norquist's work and compare it to the more conciliatory era earlier, determining that Norquist is too extreme for matters to work out in the best interests of the American government.
In addition to his work for President Reagan, Norquist would also serve President George W. Bush as unofficial liaison with the true believers in the conservative wing. When Bush won in 2000, Norquist was one of the architects of the tax cuts that took place not long after. However, Norquist has not just been an economic thinker; instead, he has also worked to connect different religious and ethnic minorities with the free-market community. His idea is to bring the concepts of the free market into alignment with the principles of various minorities, to spread the capitalist notion even further, at least into places where we want it to go. Currently, he is putting together a coalition of people in the right and center to talk about removing the country's service personnel from Afghanistan – not just to save lives, but to save billions in dollars.
One of the purposes of Wednesday meetings is to gather several different ideas in the same room, with the goal of picking the very best one(s). Norquist has had his hands on many of the major conservative projects of the past decade and a half. For examples, when California Governor Arnold Schwrzenegger ran into some problems privatizing CalPERS, he brought Norquist in to solve the problem (Marshall, 2012).
In addition to these more individualized actions, Norquist has also joined the boards of such organizations as the National Rifle Association, the Hispanic Leadership Fund, and GOProud, a political LGBT group (Miller, 2012). It is his views, though, and the actions he has taken to support them, which make him our Man of the Year. As we all know, Norquist wants to throw the federal government in a sort of laundry machine, shrinking it down to a more manageable size. His driving idea was to eliminate Social Security and Medicare, taking the country back to the era before the Great Depression. His ideas have earned him a spot as a contributing editor to The American Spectator, and he has two books which he has been working on forever – and today they will be finished.
There are signs that Norquist's hold over the Republican Party is weakening in the aftermath of the loss. Because the public has started to demand a deal, allowing some taxes to increase is sounding more and more palatable. There are also those who view Norquist as more of a cantankerous force in politics, rather than a genuine maker of political change. However, his hold on the conservative mind challenged the now-traditional thinking that more government is better government, and that private enterprise cannot do much that the government already does for them. His ideas are still quite popular in the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party; the hope is that enough residual listeners have taken his plans to heart, and that his visions will prevail. No matter what sort of deal ends up making between the Congress and the President, it is the relentlessness of Grover Norquist that brought us in full view of the fiscal cliff – and might rush us right over the edge.
Dixon, K. (2012). Grover Norquist: Republicans wobbly on taxes won’t face opposition yet. Huffington Post 11 December 2012. republicans_n_2276091.html
Marshall, L. (2012). Grover Norquist is wrong about the Tea Pary’s second coming. U.S. News and World Report 5 December 2012. marshall/2012/12/05/grover-norquist-is-wrong-about-the-tea-partys-second-coming
Miller, E. (2012). R.I.P. Grover Norquist? Washington Times 26 November 2012. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/nov/26/rip-grover-norquist/