Norquist Gets Candid
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This is a transcript of an interview broadcast on PBS on Nov. 5.
Bill Moyers: The president [uses] the political muscle to back his claim to a mandate – and the enforcers to carry it out. One of them is with me now, Grover Norquist, one of the most prominent and powerful figures in the conservative movement.
From leading college Republicans – he himself has two degrees from Harvard – to running Americans for Tax Reform, which dubbed Senate minority leader Tom Daschle an "enemy of the taxpayer" and helped to defeat him, Grover Norquist is a prime mover on the right. In the words of Newt Gingrich, "the most creative and most effective conservative activist" in the country.
He's also one tough hombre. This week he told Democrats to get with the program, accept the fact that they are powerless. The Washington Post quotes him saying after the election: "Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans. Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they're fixed then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful. They don't go around peeing on the furniture and such."
Grover Norquist assures us he was speaking tongue-in-cheek, but Democrats and liberals are now accustomed to have his thumb in their eye.
Welcome back to NOW.
Grover Norquist: Delighted to be with you.
Moyers: Did you really say that?
Norquist: Yes, well, what happened is the question is what about the tension between Republicans and Democrats in Washington. And I said, "Look, back in the '60s and '70s, there was no tension between the Democrat majority and the Republican minority. Because the Republican minority was so comfortable in the minority. When we get to that point again, Washington will be sedate and quiet."
Moyers: Are you about to do to Democrats what Democrats did to Republicans in those days?
Norquist: In the sense that back then the Democrats were the majority party in the United States. And you could step up and run as a Democrat and you won. And you could walk into a room and know that a majority of the people agreed with your world view. Today, that's largely true for Republicans. And if the Republicans are competent and keep working at it, I believe that for the next generation, the Republican Party, not just in Washington but in state capitals as well, will be the dominant majority party in the United States for the next 25 years or more, just as the Democrats had been since the 1930's.
Moyers: You said not long ago the Democrats are toast.
Norquist: Yeah, over time. Well, actually, the presently structured Democratic Party: organized labor, trial lawyers, big city political machines, the dependency lobby, both wings of the dependency lobby, the guys who are locked into welfare dependency, and the guys who make $80,000 a year managing that dependency, making sure they don't get jobs and become Republicans. That group right there, the hate and envy class division Democratic Party that's toast. There will be a Democratic Party. There will be two parties. I don't know how the Democratic Party will restructure itself, but it cannot be the 1930s class division, trial lawyer, labor union boss party that it is today.
Moyers: That has been your goal. I've followed you for a long time. That has been your goal since you crawled out of the cradle. And in your wildest dreams could you have imagined getting to this point today?
Norquist: Yes, I think the collapse of the Soviet Union as quickly as it happened and as bloodlessly as it happened was a pleasant surprise. But everything else is largely on track. And Bush and the Republicans in the House and Senate and in the state legislatures have laid out a game plan to increase the number of Americans who own shares of stock.
Why is it important to reform Social Security? First of all, because if you're under 50, it's a lousy rate of return. You do much better off in the stock market or a bond or a five percent savings certificate. Social Security gives you a one percent, or young enough, a negative rate of return for your Social Security. That needs to be fixed. But politically when every American has the option of a personal savings account, I believe we're moving to a situation where instead of 60 percent of Americans owning some stock, we'll have 100 percent of Americans owning substantial amounts of stocks in 401K's, IRA's, personal savings accounts.
Moyers: Let me ... a couple of weeks ago, we had a report on single women in Nevada. And the woman I'm about to show you hadn't made up her mind whether she was going to vote for Bush or Kerry. She's an ordinary working woman with three children who lives in Nevada. And this was a bit of that report. Let me show it to you.
Michelle Mitchell: What don't the candidates understand about your life?
Penny Katick: How expensive everything is. Most people would think nothing of just stopping at the store on the way home and getting, you know, getting some milk and gas. For us it would be a gallon of milk and a gallon of gas is almost a hour's wages. And so when your son guzzles a gallon of milk and you think "No, that's supposed to last us for the rest of the week." Little things like that, but they don't realize how hard it is every day.
Mitchell: Three days a week Penny wakes up at 3:30 in the morning. She's got the first shift at the diner, a 20-minute drive from her home.
The routine is automatic by now. While her older kids are sleeping, she rouses Brandi when it's time to leave at 5 a.m. She'll take her sleeping daughter to a friend's house, where the school bus will pick her up later.
By 5:30, Penny opens the diner. She'll put in more than a 40-hour work week, and she'll make a little over minimum wage which added up to around $13,000 dollars last year. That's well below the poverty level for a family of four.
You've talked about how you are living right on the edge. So, when you're looking at the start of that next month, is it, "Okay, this is going to be the month I get ahead?" Or ...
Penny Katick: You like to think that. But it just never happens. Something comes up, like this last couple of months it was school clothes.
If I was to get sick, yeah, we would just be ... I don't know what we would do if I was to get sick. I can't. The kids aren't covered right now which scares the heck out of me.
Mitchell: So what are your plans for next year then?
Heather Katick: After I graduate, I'm probably ... most likely I'll probably go into the Army. And just, you know, that way I can get money for college that way. And just, you know, see what that Army has to offer me. And if I like it I'll stay. You know? But yeah.
Mitchell: Does it kind of scare you that joining the Army now means you'll probably be going off to war?
Heather Katick: It does. It does scare me. I mean it scares me pretty bad. But it's just a sacrifice that I'm going to have to make. You know.
Penny Katick: It just seems like it's ridiculous for the only way for a girl, you know, a young girl to go to college is to go to war, you know. It just doesn't make any sense to me. But what are you going to do? If it's a way out of here then she needs to take it.
Norquist: I sympathize with all of the things she brings up. And I would point out that the conservative movement is on her side in all these fights. She lives in Nevada.
There you have a governor, Kenny Guinn, who unfortunately has been a tax increaser. And he raises her taxes over and over again.
Norquist: That's unacceptable.
Moyers: She lives below the poverty line. She doesn't pay any taxes.
Norquist: They don't have an income tax in that state. They have sales taxes. They have property taxes.
Poor people in America don't not pay taxes. Half of them don't pay federal income taxes. But they [pay] Social Security taxes and state and local taxes that are very damaging.
Moyers: Here's the opening sentence of the business page on the day after the election, quote, "For Wall Street Firms, a second Bush term represents a lush dividend on the millions their chief executives began raising for the president in the early days of the first term." I mean, what more can you fellows do for these people? They got their sweeping cuts in dividend capital gains and dividend taxes. How much pay back is enough?
Norquist: Well, the folks who brought President Bush and the Republican House and Senate back into power again are the broad majority of Americans. One of the things that we are disappointed in is how many people here in the New York financial markets funded Kerry, how Hollywood's big money, the billionaires in Hollywood funded Kerry. So, the corporate big wigs spent an awful lot of time and money on Kerry.
Moyers: You're right about that. I have no quarrel with that. But the fact of the matter is it's the president who's in the position to pay back. And he is paying back. And the Republicans, I mean ...
Norquist: But the reason that we want to eliminate the double taxation of dividend income is not to help the company but to help the 60 percent of Americans who own shares of stock. And Bush and the Republicans want to make sure that all Americans own shares of stock.
Moyers: You say you're, you know, for years, you've said your party's committed to small government. But under your president and under your Congress, federal spending is out of control.
Norquist: Right, federal spending has increased too rapidly. There's been too much spending during the last four years, not just on defense, not just on foreign policy but on overall government.
Moyers: Is it possible that we're governed now by ideologues and theologians, ideologues who embrace a world view that can't be changed because they admit no evidence to the contrary and theologues who assert propositions that can not be proven?
Norquist: Well, in terms of ideology, I think if you ask free market conservatives and Republicans, we would say, "Take a look at what free market policies give you. And take a look at what stateist policies give you, the difference between East Germany and West Germany, North Korea and South Korea, between France and the United States."
Moyers: You're comparing Democrats to East Germany?
Norquist: Just in terms of stateism, more government gives you less growth, less opportunity...
Moyers: But you guys have been increasing the size of government. That is a fact. I'm not making that up.
You guys have increased the size of government, the cost of government and the rising deficit as the result of that. That's just a fact.
Norquist: Right, Over the last four years, the Republicans have never had the control of the Senate that you need to enforce discipline. With 55 votes, Republican votes, which is what we had in the late '90s, it will be much more ... the Republican Party will clearly be much more responsible for what happens. But those of us in the conservative movement have got to speak to the House and the presidency in the Senate and say, "Guys, it is very important that you focus on the overall cost of government while you're making other reforms."
Moyers: I'm sorry that I'm retiring at the end of December. Because I think the next four years are going to be a bonanza for investigative journalism. I just think every time you wed the state and business together like this, you get corruption flowing like the Mississippi River.
I mean, one of my favorite history books I was reading last night in that long period when Republicans and business ran the country in the last party of the 19th century, well, here's one of the quotes, Frederick Townsend Martin, "We are rich. We own America. We've got it, God knows how. But we intend to keep it."
And in that period of time, the last gilded age in the 1920's, the relationship between business and government created more corruption that actually renewed the Progressive Party and brought the Democrats to power.
Norquist: Okay, we certainly need to fight against any effort by any corporation or any industry to ask for special deals from the government. And that's why the conservative movement has always been so separate from the business community. I know the left keep thinking they're the same thing. I assure you, the business community is very aware that they're not the same thing.
Certainly, the demand for free trade is something that historically, the business community's been against. Because they like protectionism for their own industries. You see, the business community very happy with some corporate subsidies. I'm very pleased that I've worked with Ralph Nader on fighting against corporate subsidies. And I think you'll see on the right and the left getting together to fight against corporate subsidies and, frankly, on some of the civil liberty issues that have come up in the last couple of years.
I wish the liberals would help us more. We get help from the left. We don't get a lot of help from the liberals.
Moyers: Well, liberals have traditionally been part of the power apparatus that serves the same corporations quite frankly, right? And now you guys are doing the same thing. You replace one group of elites with another.
Norquist: What I'd like to do is reduce taxes on all people and reduce the power of the state.
Moyers: Keep 'em progressive?
Norquist: I'm not particularly interested in that. I want the top rate as low as possible. Certainly, you can make it progressive by having exemptions and so on. But the most important thing is to keep rates as low as possible so that it affects people's decisions as little as possible.
Moyers: You've got the power now, power you could hardly ever dream of. What are you going to do with it in the next four years?
Norquist: In the next four years, you'll see the president had four tax cuts in the first four years. I believe you'll see four tax cuts in the next four years. We now have the votes to abolish the death tax. We have the votes to go to expensing for business investment, for expanding IRAs and 401Ks so all Americans can save tax free for their retirement. We need to get rid of that three percent federal excise tax which was put in to fund the Spanish-American War 100 years ago and is still there, hitting low income Americans. We will reform Social Security so that every American has the opportunity to save for his own retirement. We're going to defeat the trial lawyers, these billionaire parasites who've been raising the cost of everything Americans buy and do. We're going to expand trade throughout the hemisphere, because we're the most competitive nation in the world economically. This is a tremendous asset for us and it's also extremely helpful, because on their behalf, we're beating down terrorists in the Third World, and I think we'll be able the make people in the Third World much better off than they would be under protectionism.
Moyers: Thank you very much, Grover Norquist, for coming here again.
Norquist: Glad to be with you.
Bill Moyers is the host of the weekly public affairs series NOW with Bill Moyers, which airs Friday nights on PBS.