Andy Stone: A Stone’s throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
A little more than 50 years ago – ancient history! – when John F. Kennedy was running for the presidency, one of the biggest issues he had to confront wasn’t political.
It was religious.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a Catholic.
Kennedy was the first Catholic elected president of the United States. In fact, he’s the only Catholic ever elected president.
A lot of people felt very strongly that a Catholic should not become president.
The problem they had with Catholics wasn’t so much a matter of religious beliefs. In those long-ago storybook times, this country was a pretty quiet place. Abortion was a dirty little secret and illegal – no fights over that. Homosexuality was illegal – no fights over that either. In fact, mere contraception was mostly illegal too.
No, the objection to a Catholic president was the feeling that he would owe his truest allegiance to the Pope – and not to America.
In his oath of office, the president swears he will “to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
And what would happen – some people demanded to know – if that obligation to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution was somehow suddenly in conflict with the demands of the Pope, someone we Americans certainly never elected.
Indeed, even such a revered Cheerful Charlie as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale – author of “The Power of Positive Thinking” – said that if we elected a Catholic president, “Our American culture is at stake. I don’t say it won’t survive, but it won’t be what it was.”
OK, you say, perhaps that’s interesting, but so what?
Well, these days, we are dealing with an entire political party that is demonstrating exactly the kind of religious devotion that had anti-Catholic forces in such a tizzy in 1960.
We’re talking about the Republican Party, and, this time, the religion in question isn’t the Catholic Church; it’s the Anti-Tax Church.
And the almighty unelected figure to whom the devotees have sworn allegiance isn’t the Pope; it’s Grover Norquist.
Americans are supposed to pledge allegiance to the flag. Congressmen, senators and presidents are required to pledge allegiance to the Constitution, in addition to the flag. (And they are required to make that pledge “without any mental reservation … so help me God.”)
But Republicans, first and foremost, pledge allegiance to Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
That pledge commits a politician to “oppose any and all efforts to increase” tax rates “for individuals and businesses” and to “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
It is, in short, a blanket pledge – with no loopholes, no exemptions, no exceptions – to refuse to do anything to raise more money to run this country.
No matter what.
Just to show he’s serious, Norquist keeps the original signed pledges in a secret fireproof vault.
Political theater? Perhaps, but mighty powerful theater. (And, really, what is religion but mighty powerful theater?)
How powerful? Well, according to Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform website, 234 out of 240 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives and 40 Republican senators have signed. (And, just for comic relief, three Democrats – two representatives and one senator.)
Plus, just by the way, virtually every single current contender for the GOP presidential nomination has signed.
And Norquist keeps in touch with all those Republican leaders to make sure none of them stray from the True Path. When Speaker of the House John Boehner was reportedly considering a compromise on taxes, he got an immediate message from Norquist – and that was the end of that.
Is this a bad thing?
Well, only if taxes need to be raised.
Like, for example, right now.
OK … hang on! No need to start squabbling.
How about this: In recent public opinion polls, as reported by that radical leftist rag, The Wall Street Journal, a strong majority of Americans – roughly 3-to-1 – agree that at least some tax increases should be included in the effort to cut the deficit.
But the congressional Republicans are, as a group, stamping their feet and insisting on No Tax Increases – Period! Ever!
In short, in defiance of the will of the American people, the Republicans are remaining faithful to their Norquistian religion.
There I go again, using the “R” word.
Is this No Taxes Pledge really the equivalent of a religious belief?
Well, let’s use the old standard test: If it walks like a religion and quacks like a religion … it’s a religion.
Call it the Creed of Norquist. (OK, I admit it: I can’t really come up with a good name. Still, “Norquistianism” is no worse than “Zoroastrianism” – and that’s lasted 2,600 years.)
It is based on fierce beliefs – taxes are evil; they kill jobs; they wreck the economy – taken entirely on faith. No proof is needed. No proof is wanted. It’s an article of faith – to be believed without reservation.
No compromise is allowed. Compromise is heresy. Any Republican who suggests any hint of compromise is shouted down. Excommunicated.
Miracles are important: “When you cut taxes, government revenue rises.” No, in fact, it doesn’t. Just the way the Earth doesn’t revolve around the Sun – but you can’t convince a true believer. (Ask Galileo.)
There are endless doctrinal disputes. How many tax accountants can dance on the head of a pin? OK, not that, but this: If a tax cut is allowed to lapse, is that a tax increase? (Norquist himself had to issue a ruling on that one.)
So yes, it is a religion.
And yes, its adherents have pledged their faith to a man, rather than, as required, to the Constitution.
And that is un-American. It is, in fact, fraudulent. It makes a mockery of their Oath of Office (which they have sworn to uphold, “So help me God”), because they are not free to do whatever might be best for the country, whatever might be required to protect and defend the Constitution.
Those considerations come second to affirming their faith in the Norquist Creed: No Tax Increases!
I guess their fingers were crossed when they took the oath.
Maybe that should be the symbol of their religion. Christians have the cross – but Republican Norquistians could use the Crossed Fingers.
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