Some might look at the Republican flight from Grover Norquist’s legendary “tax pledge” as evidence that, finally, Republicans are stepping up and doing what’s best for Americans. Some might see this Republican exodus as proof that, finally, Republicans are done being guided by zealots and are frankly tired of losing elections. Some might see this Republican rejection of Norquist as courageous. But me, I see the Republican rejection of Norquist as proof that there are really no leaders in the Republican Party – still.
For a very long time, Norquist has stood at the ready with pen at hand, insisting Republicans sign his silly little pledge – and they have, in droves. In the last congress, as noted by nationalmemo.com, “a total of 238 members of the House of Representatives signed the pledge, 236 Republicans and 2 Democrats. At least 41 sitting senators also have signed it, giving them enough votes to effectively filibuster any tax increase.” That was then, this is now – a now that includes the re-election of a President who campaigned ruggedly on the notion that the rich should see a hike in their taxes. When Republicans were deluded into thinking Romney was going to win by a landslide, this distancing from the tax pledge was nowhere in evidence. What happened, other than that Republicans lost the presidential election? Bye-bye election, bye-bye tax pledge.
This is no evidence of leadership. There’s nothing courageous about the losing party simply cutting its losses. When far right conservative Republicans like Saxby Chambliss, Bob Corker, Bill Kristol, Lindsey Graham, Peter King and Tom Coburn turn their backs on a notion they, along with the rest of their party, have tightly embraced, it only shows that the writing’s on the wall, they don’t like what they’re reading, and they’re grabbing a scrub brush and cleaning fluid to wipe it clean. They hope Americans forget that 236 Republicans signed that pledge (and 212 of the incoming Congress have also); they hope Americans forget that Republicans have vowed to let this country go off the so-called “fiscal cliff” unless their foot-stomping, red-faced tantrums are effective in blocking tax hikes for the rich folks.
Ask yourself this question: If Romney had won, would these same Republicans be abandoning Grover Norquist today?
As Alvin Bessent from newsday.com wrote, “The absolutist pledge makes compromise impossible, and that makes it the enemy of democratic government and deficit reduction.” Um, yeah. But Bessent and I part company when he sounds a hopeful note about the future of Republican compromise, and hints that perhaps some new visions are in the works. Since 2008, Republicans, including Chambliss and Corker and Graham and Coburn, have steadfastly refused to compromise, and have happily made themselves the “enemy of democratic government.” They’ve liked it. They’ve gloried in it. They’ve been smug about it, they’ve been haughty about it, they’ve been holier-than-thou about it, they’ve been intractable, their convictions were the purest of pure. Until they lost.
So what does that tell us? It tells anyone paying close attention that Republicans haven’t changed, only the environment has. President Obama was re-elected, and six out of ten voters favor imposing higher taxes on the rich. It was a resounding message. It doesn’t really matter who the first “courageous” Republican was to get out of lockstep with Norquist. Whether it was Chambliss or incoming Corker or some other right-wing hard-line obstructionist, the Republicans who are allegedly backing away from Norquist’s pledge now only had the courage to do so when they saw there might be safety in numbers, and – more importantly – the move away from Norquist looked more promising, in terms of winning elections again, than sticking with him. Just as there was collective obstructionism, just as there was collective Obama Derangement Syndrome, there’s now a collective “what can we do to regain power” movement. That’s always what it’s about with Republicans, not conviction, or purity of thought and motive, and certainly not courage. Norquist, unfortunately, is simply the latest to end up on the scrapheap of wrong-headed Republican schemes and vast Republican miscalculations.
The proof will be if anybody in the Republican Party, ever, publicly and firmly stands up to Rush Limbaugh. If that happens, I might concede we have a leader.