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America's Tax Policy

This is the second part of the debate. To read Part 1, click here.


Delighted to join you in discussing The Big Con.

Your book tells the story of how the Reagan Republican Party branded itself as the party that will not raise your taxes at the national level. This has strengthened the GOP, allowed it to capture and hold the House and Senate for 12 years, and put a floor under the party in 2006 despite the boat anchor of the Iraq occupation and self-inflicted personal scandals.

You view this as a bad thing.

You see your book as an unfolding tragedy. I see both history and comedy.

I am intrigued by your assertion that "like a James Bond villain" I have an irrepressible penchant for spelling out [my] master plans in their full, nefarious detail." The challenge for Blofeld, Dr. No, Goldfinger and company is that they explain things in the penultimate scene to the disarmed Bond, who, when freed, is able to use that information to interrupt those plans.

This has tended to be unwise.

I will share with you my analysis of how and why the center-right movement has captured the tax issue and how we will use it to prevent the left from consolidating power and eventually to reduce the size and scope of government over time to where it might fit into a reasonably sized Jacuzzi.

I write this soliloquy safe in the knowledge that you and yours will not believe me, will not understand my point, and, if you do come to believe and understand, the nature of the left in America makes it impossible for your team to react competently to our strategy.

I came up with the idea of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge when I was in high school. (Implementation had to wait till later.) We were told that most citizens didn't know the name of their congressman. Campaigns spent millions on name ID. What if we could brand the GOP as the party that would not raise your taxes? Then a voter could enter the polling place dead drunk and know that if he or she simply pulled the R lever they at least would be protected from tax hikes. Branding is what allows us to buy Coke bottles without demanding a taste or asking friends about the virtues of this Coke bottle or reading the label. We know what is inside. There is quality control and consistency. Before the pledge that was not true of Republican candidates---just about anything could be inside the R you point out in your book as the "good old days" when Ike, Goldwater, and Ford opposed tax cuts and elected Democrats.

Then came Reagan, who campaigned on cutting tax rates. Yes, he allowed some backsliding. (Jesus dined with tax collectors.) Reagan did denounce the 1982 tax hike as his biggest mistake. He took the top rate from 70 percent to 28 percent while fighting the Soviet Union with one hand while you guys gnawed on his ankles.

We are now the party of Reagan, not the party of Lincoln. A Lincoln Republican supported maintaining the Union and opposing the extension of slavery west. This is, in most counties, a settled issue. Now we are the party of Reagan--the party that will not raise your taxes. (When a Republican president credibly organizes the party to shrink the size of government we may change names to became the Coburn Republican Party.)

The pledge was forged as a political tool/weapon between Reagan's success with tax reduction and Bush's victory in 1988 over Dole and Dukakis by promising a third Reagan term and "no new taxes" followed by losing in 1992 because he broke that pledge-making the otherwise silly Ross Perot campaign into a credible challenge that split the center-right. Tax-hiking Clinton won 43 percent of the vote--less than Dukakis won when he was humiliated and sent packing to Hawaii.

By 1994 the GOP had learned the lesson. Take the pledge, win the primary. Take the pledge, win the general, break the pledge ... lose re-election. This brought 90 percent-plus of all House and Senate candidates to sign the pledge--and keep it.

In your book you assert that Republicans don't really want tax cuts and don't object to tax hikes. We can do dueling polling data if you wish. I suggest that real elections and real initiatives where citizens vote on tax hikes suggest that there are very real, powerful, and vote-changing anti-tax majorities in the American electorate.

If the Dems thought otherwise they might have campaigned in 2006 in favor of tax hikes. We invited them to do so but were unable to get those nice Democratic challengers who were too busy wearing hunting outfits and going to church to call for tax hikes.

When I hear a person of the left arguing that the conservatives or Republicans should abandon the tax issue--and I keep a "Al Hunt" file of these semi-annual outbursts--I am reminded of the scene in the movie where the bad guy tells the hero, "put down that gun and we'll talk." If said hero is stupid enough to put down his gun, the movie continues for another 20 minutes.

The tax issue is the trump card for the American right and the Republican Party. You've written a clever book hoping to encourage my team to abandon the high ground of American politics. I believe it was in the movie Silence of the Lambs where Hannibal Lecter is able to talk the fellow in the next cell into swallowing his own tongue and killing himself. The Big Con is a nice book, Jon, but you lack Dr. Lecter's persuasive powers.

We will stick with the tax issue.

Grover G. Norquist