Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Norquist Watch

Ari Berman of The Nation argues that Democrats should get off their duffs and turn corrupt barf-bag collector Grover Norquist into, as he puts it, "a household name." Indeed, he's a perfect poster boy for Repub corruption:

Grover Norquist is known as a brilliantly effective strategist and ideologue, a Reagan Revolutionary who more than anyone deserves credit for turning Washington, DC into a one-party town. From his perch at Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), his weekly Wednesday meetings with conservative activists and his ruthlessly successful K Street Project, Norquist has created a new Republican political establishment. A Nation profile of Norquist in 2001 dubbed him "the managing director of the hard-core right in Washington." Norquist has been the go-to-guy on virtually every right-wing priority, from tax cuts to Social Security privatization, holding the GOP's big business and Christian conservative constituencies together.

Now, the man who once bragged of wanting to "cut government in half" and "drown it in the bathtub" is up to his neck in hot water because of ties to uberlobbyist Jack Abramoff. Newly released emails from the Senate Indian Affairs Committee confirm Norquist's role in helping Abramoff milk millions from Indian tribes, in one of the most extravagant corruption scandals to reach the Capitol in decades.

Over the course of several years, Abramoff and fellow lobbyist Michael Scanlon charged the Choctaw Indian Tribe of Mississippi $7.7 million for lobbying services directed against rival gambling opportunities in neighboring Alabama. In 1999, Norquist approached Abramoff about getting involved, citing "a $75k hole in my budget from last year." The Choctaws gave ATR $1.5 million, which Norquist funneled to the Alabama Christian Coalition and Citizens Against Legalized Lottery, both of whom opposed a proposal to create a state lottery. Neither group was allowed to accept casino money, so Norquist, with the help of former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed, kept the money's source secret. The state lottery and video poker machine initiatives were defeated in 1999 and 2000. Norquist subsequently invited tribal groups to meet Bush at the White House for discussions on tax policy.

John McCain's assistant Mark Salter comments dryly:

"There's never been a shortage of blowhards and bores in this town," says McCain assistant Mark Salter. "I'm sure Grover is comfortable in their crowded ranks, but that hardly merits the attention he craves...Most Reagan revolutionaries came to Washington to do something more patriotic than rip off Indian tribes."

No kidding. Here's Barf Bag Boy on McCain:

...conservative ideologue Grover Norquist recently termed Republican Sen. John McCain "the nutjob from Arizona." When called on it, Norquist noted he didn't go far enough, adding: "I meant to say gun-grabbing, tax-increasing Bolshevik."

Uh, right. Meanwhile, Grover's tactics are being adopted by the lunatic Gropenfuhrer in California. This is one of the best exposes of what the Repugs are up to that I've seen, so it bears close attention:

Now the public sector and public sector unions were enemy number one for the governor whose "reform" agenda is taken right out of the playbook of the likes of Bush Administration confidante and anti-government zealot Grover Norquist, whose agenda has long been the radical dismantling of the public sector, the destruction of the power of public sector unions, and the elimination of the collective power of public pension funds to check corporate abuses. When Norquist advised Republicans nationwide to turn state capitals into battlegrounds, he was articulating a strategy that reveals the ultimate goal of the Right -- to fundamentally and permanently reshape American political and economic life on the national, state and local level.

When the Governor pulled his pension reform after botching the first attempt, only naïve observers thought that was the end of his assault on California workers. Now, he and his corporate allies are back with a special election designed to bust unions' political clout this November and he has announced his intention to take a second shot at busting the pension system in June 2006. It's all part of the master plan.

This is not a conspiracy theory. In his September 2004 article for the Washington Monthly, "The Democratic Party Is Toast," Norquist quite overtly argued that the Democratic Party could not survive a second Bush term and that the key to eviscerating the opposition, which he calls "the Dependency movement," composed of "the coercive utopians -- the radical environmentalists, animal rights activists, feminists" as well as "government workers," "middle managers in state and federal government," "local government" and especially "labor unions," was to starve the beast.

For Norquist, the attack on government is an end in itself and his shrewd Machiavellian logic is simply that eliminating government will eliminate Democrats and unions. As he puts it, "Every worker who doesn't join a union is another worker who doesn't pay $500 a year to organized labor's political machine."

If you are not a union worker or supporter of unions, all-the-better, for it will be just that much easier to eliminate or privatize your position. As for pensions, the more one transfers the risk of retirement savings from the government to individual workers, the more Republicans you create. In Norquist's estimation, "Every demographic group, including race, gender, age and income, becomes more Republican with stock ownership." The goal of eliminating Social Security or the State Teachers Retirement System is not economic reform for the public good; it is a purely ideological move designed to consolidate and increase right-wing hegemony. Hence, like it or not, Democrat or Republican, public sector workers are all in the crosshairs of the coercive market utopians who see them, whether they be teachers, nurses, cops, firefighters, food service workers, office workers or any other "public servant" (remember that quaint notion) as public enemy number one in need of a good dose of social Darwinism.
Like Norquist, the Reason Foundation folks -- the men behind the curtain for the governor -- seek an anti-bureaucratic revolution that moves toward "market-based government" based on the same principles that brought California the marketplace utopia of energy deregulation. Unfazed by such failures or the larger lessons of United States history before the New Deal and Progressive Era reforms, the libertarian right maintains a rigid ideological faith that the golden era of the past, before big government, was better for everyone from the Robber Barons to child laborers and the majority of Americans who never went to college and spent their old age in wholesome poverty free from the burden of government handouts.

Such notions would be laughable if they weren't driving Schwarzenegger's efforts at "reform" in the name of "the people." Sadly, the Governor's reform crusade borrows its rhetoric from an earlier era when Gov. Hiram Johnson favored big government as a buffer against the excesses of corporate greed and abuse. As historian and political writer Peter Schrag has pointed out, California's first progressive Republican reformers would find the current brand of pseudo-populist grandstanding to be inconceivable. Even less-ancient conservative notions such as deficit reduction have been thrown overboard by the corporate anarchists running the show today. Indeed, as we ponder the fact that despite massive borrowing via ballot measures, the Schwarzenegger deficit is now larger than the Davis deficit, it becomes clear that deficits are not altogether unwelcome for these reformers. By refusing to ever address the problem by bringing in new revenues, the governor and state Republicans are showing their hand.

As the Democratic Leadership Council's Vice President for Policy Ed Kilgore has noted of the New Right's affection for debt, no tax pledges and debt are "good in themselves because they will ultimately force a shrinkage in government -- without the pain or controversy of identifying specific cuts in popular government programs." Hence, by refusing to even consider increasing taxes on the wealthiest Californians or corporations and by calling for the creation of an automatic trigger for budget cuts when expenses exceed revenues, the governor's plan would create a permanent scarcity model for state services. It would, quite effectively "starve the beast," as David Stockman once called the strategy, as privatization or elimination of services as well as the radical restructuring of existing programs and pension funds would become a necessity.
Gov. Schwarzenegger is not the moderate he plays on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno;" rather, he is a pretty front man for a radical agenda at odds with the interests and priorities of most Californians. As the dog and pony show in front of the Brinks trucks in San Diego illustrates, he is perfectly willing to demonize teachers and other state employees and call on Californians to terminate the "special interests." Arnold could care less if his "reform" agenda does nothing to address the budget deficit or that spending tens of millions on his special election is not favored by most Californians (61 percent oppose it).

The governor is not a populist, but rather a political thug with rich friends. When his party can't win the seats necessary to support his agenda and the polls show his popularity tanking with his job approval at an all time low 40 percent, his gut tells him to impose his will.

Grover is betting he's on the winning side, and the winning side for Grover is a kind of libertarian fascism, a paradise for the rich, an "ownership society" in which the rest of us are owned. He's a dangerous man. He needs to be treated as such.


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