In defense of Grover Norquist and his right to be wrong

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.