I had a chance to hear conservative maestro Grover Norquist speak in Chicago last May. Afterward, I was ready to burn my property tax card and move to a state that does not attempt to steal one’s personal revenue. I thank him for responding to this interview request, and also because his words accomplish something fairly rare in conservative circles: he motivates people to act. It’s no accident that the one word he misspelled in his replies was “government.”
BC: Mr. Norquist, you are the President of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). Can you tell readers how your organization differs from other famous tax relief organizations like the National Taxpayers Union and the Family Taxpayers Network? When someone makes a contribution to your organization what can they expect your people to be doing on their behalf?
GN: Americans for Tax Reform is a national taxpayer organization dedicated to opposing any and all tax increases. We work at the national, state and local level for lower taxes, less government spending and limited government. I served as the executive director of the National Taxpayers Union when I got out of college in 1978 and we were working on Proposition 13 in California and similar tax cutting initiatives in other states that year. I have always enjoyed working with and supporting the Family Taxpayers Network. ATR asks all candidates for federal and state office to sign the Taxpayer Protection pledge against any and all tax hikes. To date, we have 216 House members, 42 Senators and 1,200 state legislator and 8 governors who have signed the pledge. ATR works with local and state taxpayer groups to make sure everyone keeps the pledge and that if they break their pledge that taxpayers know.
BC: What great organizational success stories has the ATR experienced? Did you ever, almost single-handedly, lobby a piece of legislation into existence?
GN: ATR has worked hard to support all three of president Bush’s tax cuts in 2001, 2002 and 2003. We were central advocates of abolishing all taxes on Internet access. Both houses of Congress are now poised to pass a permanent extension of the ban on Internet access taxes. I served on the congressional committee that advocated such a plan. One of ATR’s projects, the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, ran the campaign to name the Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington after President Reagan. The Legacy Project ran the campaign from start to finish. Several members of Congress have been kind enough to credit ATR’s opposition to killing a number of different tax proposals.
BC: One of the things that I really respect about ATR is that you attempt a multitude of policy initiatives like postal reform, campaign finance reform, subsidy reform, regulation reform, and Social Security reform. Yet, isn’t there an inherent danger of dispersing your power by tackling so many issues at once? What is the one issue you’re the most passionate about?
GN: The central issue of our time — of all times — is the size, power and scope of government. ATR fights for individual liberty and therefore the fight has many fronts. All new spending proposals threaten liberty. There are many privatization ideas, contracting out and competitive sourcing that will all make us freer. ATR finds it can and must fight on many fronts at once….for the other team is on the playing field and playing to win.
BC: I have to ask this one. The flat tax is something that eastern Europe and Russia has forged ahead with over the course of the last few years, but do you think a flat rate of taxation has any chance of becoming law in our country?
GN: The great news is that Russia, Estonia and Slovakia have all instituted a flat rate of income tax. I was in Poland last month and the former Communists are planning to pass a flat tax — imagine that, former communists to the right of Ted Kennedy and Congress. Will we ever get a flat tax in America? Certainly. It will come step by step, but we will achieve a single rate tax that taxes income only once. We actually have flat tax now in the state of Massachusetts and the left has tried five times to repeal it and go to a progressive or graduated income tax. Once the good folks of Massachusetts got a flat tax, they won’t let go of it.
BC: I happened to see you speak in May. You’re attempting to build a center-right coalition in this country of optimally 60% of the electorate. Isn’t that a bit unrealistic based on 2000 election results? Or do you believe that President Bush’s success has created a unique opportunity for the right that would have been a pipe dream only a few short years ago?
GN: The center-right coalition, the modern conservative movement and Republican Party as led by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, represent more than 60% of the American people. Properly presented, our ideas win 60% of the vote. Weak candidates, strong opposition candidates and voter fraud can drop that percentage. The growth of the investor class — those 70% of voters who own stock and are more opposed to taxes and regulations on business as a result — is strengthening the conservative movement. More gun owners, fewer labor union members, more homeschoolers, more property owners and a dwindling number of FDR-era Democrats all strengthen the conservative movement versus the Democrats.
BC: Along the lines of the last question, has the Democratic Party’s leftward tilt with Pelosi and Dean given the Republican Party a chance to build such a coalition almost by default? It seems that even the more centrist politicians like John Edwards have been corrupted by the anti-American left. Have they thereby surrendered the center? Do you think that whoever gets out of their primary for 2004 will be so compromised by leftist PACs that they’ll never appeal to the American people as a whole?
GN: The Democratic Party is funded and controlled by the trial lawyers, labor unions, government workers, the two wings of the dependency movement, those locked into welfare dependency and those who are paid 70,000 a year to manage the dependency of others, and the hard left zealots of the Greens, the feminists, the radical gays, and animal rights folks. They are dragging the Democrat Party to the left and more extreme positions.
BC: You now write a regular column called “Politico” for The American Enterprise. I can think of no organization more important to conservatism that the American Enterprise Institute. When one looks through its lineup of scholars and sees names like Kirkpatrick, Sommers, Gingrich, Lott, and Bork, one cannot underestimate its importance. Which of these and other brilliant minds, both past and present, have had the profoundest influence upon you?
GN: The conservative movement has many strong leaders. I worked with Gingrich as he created the Republican majority in Congress. Jeane Kirkpatrick helped change the direction of American foreign policy. Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation and conservative leaders such as Paul Weyrich created the modern conservative coalition in Washington D.C. and throughout the nation in the 1970s.
BC: Is it your opinion that the American universities are now in the stranglehold of the left? I have yet to meet a Marxist over the course of the last ten years who was not in some way affiliated with a university. Is it the death grip that the left has over hiring and firing that has relegated many of the nation’s finest minds to positions at conservative think-tanks?
GN: The universities are certainly tidal pools filled with Marxist nonsense long after the tide went out. I wonder if it matters. Policy is more shaped by think tanks — and here conservatives have better and stronger ones. Students work hard not to learn anything at these universities so I wonder if bad ideas are picked up or remembered. It would be nice to have serious universities, but we can survive as a nation — we have survived for 50 years–without them.
BC: How do you convince people that taxes are not charity? To me this is the biggest obstacle to tax reform. I know so many people who say ridiculous things like “I can afford to pay taxes, no big deal.” What angle would you take with a person like this to bring them over to the side of the good?
GN: Taxation is not charity. It is not voluntary. As we shrink the state and make government smaller we will find that more and more people are able to take care of themselves. The welfare state creates its own victim/client constituency. By making individuals free and independent, we reduce the need for “charity” to those truly needy citizens what we can certainly afford to help through real charity.
BC: Here’s a freebie. David Brock had some unflattering things to say about you in his Chatty Kathy memoir. Do you have a response? Personally, when I read that book I was convinced that guy was never on the right to begin with as he seems to have no knowledge of basic conservative positions.
GN: I have not had a chance to read David Brock’s book. I befriended him when he was at The American Spectator but he was not a part of the conservative movement. He wasn’t at the meetings or part of our collective efforts, so he never knew much of the movement other than what he could glimpse from afar.
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