As California Goes, So Goes the Nation: Grover Norquist, the Religious Right, and the Assassination of American Democracy
“After 1985, the Republican Party adopted the idea that tax cuts can solve the whole problem and that therefore the future deficits didn't matter and tax cuts would be the solution of first second and third resort.”-David Stockman, former OMB Director, chief architect of Reagan’s fiscal policy
California Governor Jerry Brown has proposed a budget calling for a special election in June which would ask the residents of California to decide whether or not to extend the series of tax increases approved under the Schwarzenegger administration. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, says Republican legislators who allow this election will be violating their pledge to not raise taxes or allow the reduction of credits. A government cannot function properly without proper revenue. This idea is behind the Oliver Wendell Holmes quote that is inscribed on the archway above the entrance to the IRS building: “taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.”
The role of government is both to protect property rights and an individual's right to taxation with equal representation, and at the very least to protect due process and the citizens to vote. Norquist famously said he wishes to see government so small it can be drowned in a bathtub; this homicidal tendency cannot be trusted near our government, and so his interference in California's electoral process is both disturbing given his outright hatred of government and horrifying in scope given the breadth and rapidly growing power of the coalition he represents.
Now that the Norquist coalition has demanded that no vote be allowed, and seeing that the needs of the average citizen have been cut out of the state budget already for the sake of a society “freer and richer and more independent of government at all levels” (Norquist xxi), this pledge to reach a zero revenue state government usurps a legislative officer’s constitutional oath to uphold the law of the land. Norquist is motivated by what he might call desire for liberty but more accurately can be described as religious zealotry applied to greed.
On January 10, 2011, California governor Jerry Brown released a budget that “proposes $12.5 billion in spending reductions, $12 billion in revenue extensions and modifications, $1.9 billion in other solutions to close the gap and provide for a $1 billion reserve…[As for the revenue extensions] the government spending plan assumes that all statutory changes to implement budget actions will be adopted by the legislature in March, allowing the necessary ballot measures to be put before the people at a June special election” (Governor). California, despite the recession, currently has the eighth largest economy in the world and the single largest in America (EconPost). Despite this fact, Governor Brown's office proposes radical restructuring of the government as California is currently unable to pay its bills (Governor).
Any solution to the current budget stalemate in California would require two Republican legislators from each the Assembly and the Senate agreeing to a compromise, or Brown withdrawing his budget and taking the tax extensions off the table. However, instead of even making a show of compromise, Republicans have formed a new “taxpayer caucus.” Members of this caucus from the State Senate include Joel Anderson, Ted Gaines, and Doug LaMonte; Chris Norby, Brian Jones, and twenty-five others fill out the inaugural membership (Fleischman).
Americans for Tax Reform was founded by Grover Norquist at the specific request of Ronald Reagan; its main purpose is to commit legislators and candidates for office to a “Taxpayer Protection Pledge.” The pledge first appeared in 1986 and every winning Republican presidential candidate since has signed it. In all 50 states the group works to pressure candidates at the state level to sign the state taxpayer protection pledge, which reads as follows:
“ ‘I _____ pledge to the taxpayers of the __________ district, of the state of __________, and to all the people of this state, that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes’” (“About”).
As of April 19, 2011 more than one thousand state legislators across the country have signed the pledge, a clear indication of the size and power this group wields. The power, if not the intention of the pledge signatory is to defund government entirely.
In a featured column on flashreport.org, Grover Norquist clarifies and defends the default conservative position, making clear that any vote to send tax increases to the ballot is a violation of the taxpayer protection pledge. Further he publicly admonishes any Republican pledge signer who has any doubt about the consequence of wavering: “There is nothing subjective about the determination that voting to refer higher taxes to the ballot is a violation of the taxpayer protection pledge. A vote for tax hikes on the ballot is clearly and indisputably a failure to ‘oppose and vote against any and all efforts to raise taxes’” (“Featured Column”). The endgame of this hollow philosophy is quite obviously to bankrupt and collapse the government, first at the state level, and then at the federal level.
An interview with Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein offered a revealing look into the tax cut “theology” behind the pledge and the man who wrote it. Pressed for his opinion on what a fair tax rate would be, his honest answer is that “at the state level zero is a reasonable goal.” In response to a question about why government spending is always bad, Norquist digs, stating “all government spending requires the government to first take by force money from the people who earned it.” Probed for data to prove Republican style ‘supply-side’ economics works, his reply is only that “conservatives and Reagan Republicans argue that history demonstrates that liberty is not only the best politics, it is the best economic strategy. People should be secure in their persons and property, have the rule of law and low taxes” (“Grover”).
Grover Norquist builds conservative coalitions, the most vocal members of which are the Christian Right. Leave Us Alone, Norquist's book, is an attempt to reach out to the moderate and independent voter. He suggests a better understanding of the religious right in America can be had “by examining the life and work of Paul Weyrich” (page 15). Paul Weyrich, who coined the popular phrase “moral majority,” conceived in 1973 an organization that would promote a conservative social agenda. Weyrich was frustrated by 1960s liberalism and was in need of a tool to get controversial bills into the hands of state legislators outside of the public eye. Along with conservative activist Lou Barnett and former Illinois Route Republican Congressman Henry Hyde, they created that tool: ALEC, or the American Executive Legislative Council (American Association of Justice). “In each task force legislators welcome their private sector counterparts to the table as equals working in unison to solve the challenges facing our nation” (“Task Force”). “826 bills were introduced in the states in 2009 and 115 were enacted into law” (American Association of Justice). This is a preposterous success rate.
The coalition's call to cut taxes as a necessity so as to bring about an end to all government interference in the free market and in private enterprise is nearly identical to the pervasive theology of fast talking David Barton, an extremely popular Christian nationalist revisionist pastor. Barton is president and founder of WallBuilders, an organization whose mission statement is clear enough:
“WallBuilders is an organization dedicated to presenting America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built-a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined. In accord with what was so accurately stated by George Washington, we believe that ‘the propitious [favorable] smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation which disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained’” (“About Us”).
Barton was named one of Time magazines 25 most influential Evangelicals in America in 2005. He more recently garnered attention by appearing on the Glenn Beck program as a “historian” despite having only theological credentials; he has “taught” constitutional courses for Michele Bachmann and the Congressional Tea Party caucus and argued cases in front of the Supreme Court (“About Us”). Barton believes “money does not belong to the government. It belongs to individuals, and to steal money from individuals through whatever government spending program is taking private property, and we are not supposed to do that."He consistently asserts that Jesus has a teaching that opposes the minimum wage and that taxation of any kind is “inherently un-biblical and unfair” (People for the American Way).
It is apparent that David Barton holds an extremely radical view of the Constitution. He believes that the post-Civil War amendments have all been used to negatively and fundamentally alter the relationship between states and the national government. He holds a peculiar position in believing that the Constitution only applies to Congress and the federal government (Daily Show). Reconstructionist writers strive to apply biblical principles to civil government and “emphasize the importance of private property and free market capitalism for ensuring the freedom and responsibility of the individual before God [while at the same time rejecting] government price controls, welfare and other entitlement programs, and any kind of wealth redistribution. [In their view] taxation should only be as high as necessary for the maintenance of a libertarian state that allows individuals act freely, although in accordance with God's moral law” (“Tax Revolt”). This is eerily reminiscent of Norquist and his claim that government can only tax by force, and an illegitimate force at that.
Obviously, Barton and Norquist share a philosophy, motive, agenda, and itinerary in attempting to privatize government or at least eliminate state control and then replace it with a much more local and surely less expensive government that does not provide “services.” “Services” in particular have clearly rankled Norquist and his ilk.
There is damning evidence that David Barton and Grover Norquist have succeeded in influencing the same targeted pool of voters to make a morally justified ideologically driven political decision. This idea put forth by Barton, and by default, Norquist, is of a God-ordained biblical government in place of the current system. The current system is only able to operate because it taxes. People must only pay taxes willingly, because taxation is not biblical. In other words, taxation is thievery. David Barton spent more than 20 years helping to establish the standards of California social studies and history textbooks setting in motion what is a creeping revision of history; this has led to a new generation of taxpaying citizen believing that taxes are by nature evil, and so government by its taxation power is an illegitimate and unjust authority. Barton makes it clear that in his view the Constitution would allow either Christian or sharia law being instituted within a specific locality “as long as it wasn't coercive” (Daily Show). The Courts currently may not agree, says Barton, but it would be within the original intent.
Socialist Sara Diamond showed in Spiritual Warfare that dominionism is an ideological tendency of the Christian Right that is most significantly influenced by Christian Reconstructionism. “[It] engages in a more muscular and activist form of political participation [as the] core theme of Dominion theology is that the Bible mandates Christian to take cover and occupy secular institutions. [Reading this, Christian right leaders] adopted the idea of taking dominion over the secular institutions of the United States as the ‘central’ unifying ideology of their social movement. They decided to gain political power through the Republican Party” (Berlet).
Theirs is a seductive argument. Taxes are an inconvenience and can never be fair; religion is a personal matter; government at its worst is a threat to liberty. Just one example would be the ex post facto laws that allow the punitive treatment as adults of juveniles adjudicated as minors. Taxpayer money putting children in jail for playing “show-me” games is wrong, clearly. Essentially, if Jesus truly is against taxes and Democrats are the party who will always raise taxes because they are the party of big government, then Jesus hates Democrats and Democrats hate Jesus and since America is a Christian nation, Democrats hate America. Don’t vote for a Democrat or any liberal, lest you be ostracized in the church and the community.
Norquist’s singular call of “never raise taxes” unifies the Evangelical Conservatives with the mainstream Fiscal Conservatives. This is evident in the realm of corporate America. Tim Phillips is president of Americans for Prosperity, which is the activist side of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Americans for Prosperity was founded in 2004 by David Koch. Phillips is also cofounder of Century Strategies, a lobbying firm also held by Ralph Reed. Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed have been working together since the date days they were college Republicans recruiting voters in Ronald Reagan's first presidential run (Moyers).
The Koch brothers are rabidly anti-government. David Koch ran as a far right alternative to Reagan; he received less than one per cent of the total vote. His campaign platform included the elimination of Social Security and other perennial targets of the libertarian movement. Research into their tax records show shows “that Koch-controlled foundations gave out $196 million from 1998 to 2008, much of it to conservative causes and institutions” (Mayer). That doesn't even include the $50 million in Koch Industries lobbying in nearly $5 million more in campaign contributions by its PAC’s. Tax law allows for personal anonymous donations to nonprofit political groups so these numbers may not even be scratching the surface. Together , Charles and David Koch are owners of Koch Industries, and are each valued at $21.5 billion (Rich).
Joel C. Anderson, a Republican assemblyman who is both a signatory of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge and a member of the Taxpayers Caucus in California, was the state chairman of ALEC in 2009. Mike Morgan of Koch Industries Incorporated sat on the ALEC private sector board in 2010. This draws a clear line from the ATR pledge to the Tea Party and ALEC and the Koch brothers in political activity as well political ideals. The people following and supporting this philosophy with their votes are either hoping for or are unaware of the stated goals of the Coalition Grover leads.
“It is downright ironic to call the taxpayer protection pledge the taxpayer protection pledge… Between the policies they have explicitly supported, and the policies they have pledged to support, the self-styled taxpayer protect orders have been instrumental in enacting policies that raise the long-term fiscal gap by upwards of 4% of GDP, or about $34 trillion. These burdens will have to be borne by future taxpayers who are likely to be markedly ‘unprotected’” (Brookings Institute). The idea that tax cuts for the wealthy will stimulate employment failed (Krugman). The current budget mess expresses that fact clearer than any graph could. Less revenue may mean less wasteful spending in the government, true, zero revenue for the government can only mean a struggle to survive and starvation for the poor and middle classes.
With no WIC, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Insurance, Unemployment insurance, food stamps or other state services as a safety net, only free-market options will remain. This would be Liberty for those who have planted seed money and seek to profit from the long slow sink into the quicksand that is “corporatism. Those Californians, those Americans unable to afford these free-market options will have become a never ending supply of pagan wage slaves for the wealthiest of Americans, not allowed to unionize, collectively bargain about wages or working conditions, and all must attend church whether they believe or not to avoid the shame of being thought of as “other.”
Jesus/God, on the pro side of the “government has the authority to tax argument” was rather emphatically in favor of taxation. The Bible is far from silent on the subject. Some examples: God orders Moses to collect a tax for the tent-like sanctuary that the Israelites used for worship (Exodus 30); when asked by tax collectors how to live, Jesus only tells them to not collect more than they are required to (Luke 3); and Jesus says that people ought to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's (Matthew 22).
Norquist and the coalition he represents stand for a principle that in its natural conclusion can only lead our state and federal governments to default on their debts. States across the country are in a similar position; however, no other state wields the same economic power as California. So, California needs additional revenue soon if it is to continue succeeding in providing the property rights protection it so ably does. Without sufficient revenue and taxes are where governments get their revenue, California will default. America will likely follow.
Norquist imagines America where taxes get lower and lower every year. Once they are zero… he does not address this. He wishes to be “free of federal and state labor laws” (xxi). What to do when faced with an abusive or exploitative employer is not addressed by the ideology. Instead, liberty with the help of Jesus will fix this problem. One problem the pledge cannot fix becomes apparent the longer one considers the impact and the goal: once all tax rates reach zero, a flat tax (as is commonly proposed in place of income, estate and other taxes by libertarians) would not- could not- be enacted, voted upon, or even proposed because that would be in violation of the pledge. California needs and deserves better than a soft dominionist-style theonomy.
“All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are rich and well born; the other, the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second; and as they cannot receive any advantage by change, they will therefore maintain good government.
Can a democratic assembly who annually [through annual elections] revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily to pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy. Their turbulent and changing disposition requires checks.” (Alexander Hamilton, 1787)
“Fascism should rightly be called corporatism as it is the merger of corporate and government power” Benito Mussolini
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