Opinion

In defense of Grover Norquist and his right to be wrong

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Lanny Davis
Former Special Counsel to President Clinton
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      Lanny Davis

      Lanny J. Davis counsels individuals, corporations and government contractors, and those under congressional scrutiny, on crisis management and legal issues by developing legal, media and legislative strategies that are designed to best produce a successful result for the client. He has experience in securities fraud and SEC investigations as well, and has found that utilizing such an integrated legal/media/lobbying approach can lead to quicker and less expensive settlements or even successfully litigated outcomes. Senior officials of public companies have also hired Lanny and his crisis group to defend themselves successfully against "short and distort" attacks and other market manipulations. For 25 years prior to 1996, before his tenure as special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny was a commercial, antitrust, government contracts and False Claims Act litigator (both in defense as well as plaintiff). He has argued numerous appellate cases in the U.S. courts of appeals.

      In June 2005, President Bush appointed Lanny to serve on the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 2005 Intelligence Reform Act. In that capacity, he received the highest level security clearances so that he could be fully briefed and "read in" to the various anti-terrorist surveillance and financial tracking programs at the highest classified level. From 1996 to 1998, Lanny served as special counsel to the president in the White House and was a spokesperson for the president and the White House on matters concerning campaign finance investigations and other legal issues. Lanny has participated in national, state and local politics for almost 30 years. He has served three terms (1980 to 1992) on the Democratic National Committee representing the state of Maryland, and during that period he served on the DNC Executive Committee and as chairman of the Eastern Region Caucus. In Montgomery County, Maryland, he served as chairman of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

      Lanny has authored several books and lectured throughout the United States and Europe on various political issues. Between 1990 and 1996, Lanny was a bimonthly commentator on Maryland politics for WAMU-88.5/FM, a Washington, D.C. local affiliate of National Public Radio. He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, Fox Cable, CNBC and network TV news programs. He has published numerous op-ed/analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, he Washington Post and other national publications.

      Lanny graduated from Yale Law School, where he won the prestigious Thurman Arnold Moot Court prize and served on the Yale Law Journal. A graduate of Yale University, Lanny served as chairman of the Yale Daily News.

      Lanny is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Connecticut and before the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

I strongly disagree with Grover Norquist and his anti-tax pledge. But I believe his views are sincere. And I condemn those who substitute personal attacks on Norquist for factual arguments to prove him wrong.

First, I don’t get why my fellow Democrats and liberals blame Norquist for the “pledge” — rather than those who sign the pledge.

Last time I looked, no one forced 285 members of Congress at gunpoint to sign the pledge prior to the November elections — 238 of 242 House Republicans and 41 out of 47 Senate Republicans. They freely signed a commitment to oppose increases in marginal income tax rates for individuals and businesses and to oppose net reductions or eliminations of deductions and credits without a matching reduced tax rate.

These members of Congress signed the pledge voluntarily, last time I looked. And if they change their minds, which they are allowed to do, they will be held accountable by the voters — or at least should be, if voters disagree with the change of position.

Second, why don’t we use facts to persuade voters that Norquist and those who signed the pledge are wrong — and that history proves them so?

For example, let’s look at the factual evidence of Bill Clinton’s two terms to make our case. In 1993, anti-tax conservatives opposed President Clinton’s tax increase of $250 billion (through increasing marginal rates). Fact: That budget was passed in the House and the Senate without a single Republican member of either chamber voting for it. Fact: Republicans took to the floor of both chambers and predicted that the Clinton tax increases would — as Grover Norquist now says about increasing taxes today — cause a recession and increased joblessness.

Fact: They were proven wrong and Clinton was proven right. Clinton began his tenure in January 1993 with a $300 billion deficit and a slow economic recovery, and eight years later left office with a $1 trillion surplus, 23 million new jobs and a 65 percent approval rating — unprecedented for a second-term president.

I also think Norquist is wrong because he gives too little weight to the economic and moral issues if America doesn’t substantially pay down our $16 trillion national debt. If we don’t adopt the across-the-board approach of Simpson-Bowles, I think America runs a serious risk of becoming another Greece, with a GDP exceeded by our national debt in the foreseeable future.

For me, not addressing the national debt is also a moral issue. I have two younger children. I think it is flat-out immoral for today’s generation of adults to use credit cards and hand over the receipts and tell our children and grandchildren (and probably, the way things are going, great-grandchildren) to pay the tab for our spending.

That is my opinion. I think I am right.

Norquist disagrees with me. He thinks I am wrong.

I am willing to concede that Norquist might not be entirely wrong. I do worry about the recessionary effects of raising taxes in our already stagnant economy with unemployment nearly 8 percent. It won’t kill me (or my fellow Democrats) to concede that Norquist might have a point about the risks of raising taxes at this particular time.