Thursday morning, Gretchen rang my extension and asked, “Mr. Collins, who the hell is Grover Norquist?”
“Why do you ask?” I inquired.
“Because there’s this guy on Line Two who said he’s somebody named ‘Grover Norquist,’ and when I asked him, ‘How do you spell your last name, sir?’ he went ballistic! He was like, ‘What do you mean? Don’t you know who I am? I’m the most important person in America right now! I’m the one who’s going to save this country from Barack Hussein Obama and the Socialist Democrat conspiracy,” and so on and so forth. Actually… let me check… yeah… he’s still yelling at me. Is this pathetic, raving turkey some kind of psycho or what?”
“While it is certainly true,” I allowed, “that he is, without a doubt, the son of a fabulously wealthy, highly reactionary industrial executive; and that he did, in fact, graduate from Harvard; and that he is, indisputably, a Republican; and, that he is definitely very, very conservative, I would nevertheless say no, all of those factors, taken together, do not necessarily guarantee he’s some kind of mental case. As a matter of fact, quite a few people who are not themselves in strait jackets, sitting in rubber-lined rooms, or on medications such as haloperidol, do indeed believe that Grover Norquist is sane.”
“Well,” Gretchen indignantly shot back, “he certainly hasn’t done much to convince me! Do you want to talk to him now or have me tell him to call you back later, and if so, when?”
“Have you heard anything from that economist from the Paraguayan Embassy?” I asked. “He’s already over a half hour late.”
“Um… hold it a sec…” Gretchen murmured. “Okay, he just called. He’s on Line Three. He says he’s got ‘personal issues’ and the Paraguayan economy will have to wait until tomorrow. Sounds like he’s drunk as a skunk, actually.”
“In that case,” I concluded, “take Mr. Norquist off hold and let’s see what he wants.”
Norquist: Hello? Hello? Tom Collins?
Tom: Yes, sir, this is he.
Norquist: This is Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform!
Tom: Yes, sir, I know.
Norquist: Well, I think you’d better fire that receptionist of yours, Collins. She’s rude and disrespectful.
Tom: She’s my private secretary, not a receptionist. I understand that she didn’t know who you are.
Norquist: That’s right, she didn’t!
Tom: I would suggest that it is not necessarily rude and disrespectful to not know who you are, sir.
Norquist: But – you’d agree that not knowing who I am definitely verges on being rude and disrespectful, though, wouldn’t you?
Tom: Forgive me for asking, but you did not, in fact, contact me today in order to debate that particular point, did you?
Norquist: No, of course not!
Tom: Might I inquire, then, to what I owe the unexpected honor of this telephone call?
Norquist: Unexpected honor? Well now, that’s more like it! Okay, Collins, what I want to talk to you about is this problem I’ve recently had keeping Republican members of Congress in line.
Tom: Excuse me – you have a problem doing what?
Norquist: Ah, you know – having them ask “how high?” when I say “jump!” Making them roll over, fetch, sit up and beg on command – getting them to lickspittle my shoes when I say “shine ‘em, up, loser!” – you know, all those things an important, king-making, world-class mover and shaker like me has a right to expect from Republican members of the United States House and Senate.
Tom: You mean, you’re experiencing problems with… obtaining the customary level of obedience you have come to expect from Republican members of Congress?
Tom: Do you mind if I ask, how did you obtain such a degree of… um… influence… over them in the first place?
Norquist: Why, with the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, of course.
Tom: You mean, the pledge which Americans for Tax Reform have been insisting that politicians sign since 1986? The one in which they promise to “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to raise taxes” under all circumstances?
Norquist: Yep. Worked like a charm. If they didn’t sign, my buddies and I would pour money into media smears and such and make sure when they were defeated in an election, everybody knew about it and saw that I was the one responsible.
Tom: Certainly understandable. As Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli once observed, it is much better to be feared than loved.
Norquist: Love is for Communist hippies. Fear rules all!
Tom: Spoken like a true Ivy League conservative, sir.
Norquist: Thank you. And since 1986, up until around 2010, everything was fine – I got more and more Republicans to sign the Pledge – even a few Democrats, too. Then something went wrong with the uh… business model, I guess you’d say. But I’m not really sure what, precisely…
Tom: Could it be the imminent approach of the dreaded Fiscal Cliff?
Norquist: No, because it’s not a cliff.
Tom: It’s not? What is it, then?
Norquist: Oh, it’s just a hillock, or a bump really. Sort of like the bunny slope at a ski resort, or maybe a low-lying stretch of highway were water collects when it rains.
Tom: Okay, then, could it have been the accumulating effects of the biggest economic cataclysm since the Great Depression?
Tom: No? Why not?
Norquist: Because that never happened. That was all just a bunch of Big Government Democrat propaganda calculated to take over America from the true patriots.
Norquist: Oh, yeah, you bet!
Tom: The government is too big? How big should it be, then?
Norquist: Small enough to drown it in a bathtub when nobody’s looking.
Tom: I see. Does that also include the military?
Norquist: The military? Look, all we need is a military large enough to keep the Canadians from invading us, okay? That’s it – not one soldier, sailor, aviator, marine, aircraft carrier, B2 bomber or M1 tank more!
Tom: I see. But what about the poor?
Norquist: Are there no prisons?
Tom: Plenty of prisons.
Norquist: And the Wal-Marts and the McDonalds hamburger joints and the 7-11 convenience stores – are they still in operation?
Tom: They are.
Norquist: Have the trees and shrubs suddenly ceased to drop leaves which must be blown from our sidewalks?
Tom: No, they have not.
Norquist: Does garbage no longer accumulate, awaiting collection?
Tom: In fact, yes, it continues to accumulate.
Norquist: Hasn’t hurricane Sandy created enough work for the roofers?
Tom: More than enough, sir.
Norquist: Do hordes of misguided liberals no longer walk the streets of our cities, doling out spare change to homeless Vietnam veterans?
Tom: Indeed, sir, they still persist in their folly.
Norquist: Very well then – why should I be concerned about the fate of the poor?
Tom: You could be concerned that, perhaps, if things got sufficiently awful, the poor might rise up and smite you, sir.
Norquist: Are there not gated communities to house the wealthy?
Norquist: Are there not private security firms – does not Pinkerton’s yet flourish?
Tom: Yes, there are plenty of those, many much more ruthless than Pinkerton’s has ever been, in fact.
Norquist: And isn’t there ubiquitous and effective electronic surveillance of everyone?
Tom: Last time I checked.
Norquist: And DNA technology to make sure we humanely execute the correct impoverished miscreants via professionally administered lethal injections?
Tom: Infallible DNA technology, to be sure, sir.
Norquist: And plenty of laws for the poor to break?
Tom: More than enough of those, sir.
Norquist: Then why should I be concerned what the desperate poor might do?
Tom: But you are concerned about taxes.
Norquist: Taxes is all that anyone should be concerned about! But what are these… these turncoats… these Quislings… these lily-livered cowards doing? Trying to wriggle out of their commitments, that’s what!
Tom: Like how, for example?
Norquist: Okay, take this Representative Chris Gibson from New York for instance – he signed the Pledge, and he stuck to it, too, for the whole time he was in Congress. Then redistricting came along.
Norquist: Yeah, and now, he’s saying that the Pledge only applied when he was representing the congressional district he signed it for! Now that he’s representing a new congressional district, he says the Pledge doesn’t apply anymore!
Tom: Interesting line of reasoning, that.
Norquist: Oh, sure, and he’s not alone, either! There are a whole bunch of Republicans in the House and the Senate who are saying that the Pledge only applied for the term of election in which they signed it! And when I told Representative Peter King of New York that no, the Pledge is not just some temporary, two-year agreement that needs to be renewed every congressional election, as if it were a cellular telephone contract, the Pledge is like a marriage vow, and he signed it, so he’d better love, honor and obey it until death does he part from it! Well, I don’t mind telling you, he acted like he didn’t understand what I was talking about! So then, I laid it out, so even an idiot like him could get the point! I told the media, “I hope his wife understands that commitments last a little longer than two years or something.” And you know what he did? He said his wife would knock my head off for making a comment like that!
Tom: Um… have you ever seen Peter King’s wife?
Norquist: No, as a matter of fact, I never have.
Tom: Remember when you mentioned Pinkerton’s a minute ago?
Tom: My advice would be to put them between you and her.
Tom: She’s one very tough broad, sir. Got a right uppercut like Joe Frazier and a left hook like Muhammad Ali.
Norquist: Oh dear me, I thought, you know, King was just shooting his mouth off!
Tom: Now, now, don’t be afraid. I’m sure there’s nothing she can do that half a dozen heavily armed men with martial arts and law enforcement training can’t handle.
Norquist: Whew, that’s a relief. Thanks for the tip – looks like this consultation has paid for itself already.
Tom: I’m glad you feel that way, sir.
Norquist: Right – then there’s this other guy, Scott Perry, who signed the Pledge when he was a member of the New York legislature. He’s arguing that now that he’s been elected to a different governing body – the US House of Representatives, that is – the Pledge doesn’t apply to him anymore!
Tom: Pretty slippery guy, that Scott Perry.
Norquist: Tell me about it! And in the Senate, it’s even worse – Lindsey Graham went on ABC last Sunday and said that he’d be willing to violate the Pledge in return for a Democrat plan to reform entitlements. And that snake-in-the-grass, Saxby Chambliss – he said that he cares more about his country than some twenty-year old Pledge!
Tom: But what about John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell? They’re still on your side, aren’t they?
Norquist: Yeah, but new Pledge signers have been falling off fast lately. Only twenty-six of the thirty-eight Republicans who will be freshman members of Congress next year signed up! That’s compared to ninety-six out of the ninety-nine new Republicans that were in the one-hundred and twelfth Congress in 2011. Right now, we’ve only got two hundred and nineteen members of the House and thirty-nine members of the Senate who have put their John Hancocks on the Pledge.
Tom: Well, according to the Constitution, the House controls both taxation and spending, and you only need two hundred and eighteen votes for a majority. So I’d say things look all right there for the Pledge, for the moment, at least.
Norquist: I can’t be satisfied with a holding action! My goal is to bring America back to where it was up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the Socialists took over.
Tom: You think Teddy Roosevelt was a Socialist?
Norquist: Of course he was!
Tom: But didn’t you work for Richard Nixon?
Norquist: Yeah, and Nixon was a great president, too.
Tom: Hmmm… all right, leaving aside that particular question, isn’t it a fact that Nixon instituted wage and price controls?
Norquist: Um… yes.
Tom: By executive order, no less, didn’t he?
Tom: So, doesn’t that make Nixon not only a Socialist, but a Socialist dictator?
Norquist: Maybe – but he was nowhere near as bad as Teddy Roosevelt!
Tom: Mr. Norquist, at this point, it occurs to me I should ask – do you think that it’s possible that lot of Republicans signed the Pledge because they figured, “Well, why not? Of course I’m against raising taxes – isn’t everybody? Find me one single, solitary politician who is in favor of raising taxes! You can’t do it! So why should I care if I sign this?” You see? Demanding that a Republican sign a pledge to oppose raising taxes is like demanding that a tapeworm sign a pledge never to leave the human intestine, or demanding that a tick sign a pledge never to consume anything but blood, or demanding that a hyena sign a pledge to never eat vegetables, or demanding that a rat…
Norquist: Okay, okay, I get the idea! What of it?
Tom: Well, all of those things – the rat, the hyena, the tick, and the tapeworm, each and every one of them can evolve. And just like a rat, a hyena, a tick or a tapeworm can evolve, so can a Republican.
Norquist: No! Not possible! Republicans do not believe in evolution, therefore, Republicans cannot evolve!
Tom: Sure they can. They evolved from the party of Abraham Lincoln into the party of Mitt Romney, didn’t they? So why can’t they evolve back in the other direction again? And if they do, it will be a natural process based on survival of the fittest, not some irrational impulse to betray you or defy your power. You need to understand, sir, that it’s not personal – you and they are just components in the grand scheme of the American political ecosystem.
Norquist: And you’re saying that in the grand scheme of the American political ecosystem, what I’ve been doing for twenty-six years has been… superfluous? That I’ve just been going around getting frogs to promise they’ll stay in the water and geese to promise they’ll fly south in the winter?
Tom: Exactly – and now that the frogs are evolving into toads, they don’t need to stay in the water all the time, and since the geese have discovered urban heat islands, they don’t need to migrate, and…
Norquist: Those two-faced, opportunistic, underhanded… rapscallions! Those unprincipled gandy dancers, those double-dealing booey-mongers! Those… those… nasty stinkers! They mislead me – all of them! They lied to me!
Tom: Imagine that – politicians who lie.
Tom: Prevarication, no less, committed by members of Congress. The mind simply boggles at the thought.
Norquist: Unbelievable! You mean, all this time, when they kissed up to me, they were just… pretending?
Norquist: But… it felt… so good! There must be something I can do! Wait a minute… Oh! I know! I’ll demand that they sign another pledge!
Tom: An additional one?
Norquist: That’s right – I’ll make them sign a second pledge to be honest!
Tom: Along with a pledge not to raise taxes?
Norquist: Yes! Now, supposing evolution is real, wouldn’t that be some pretty remarkable political evolution?
Tom: Remarkable? It would be like ringworm fungus evolving into the black Perigord truffle.
Norquist: And that would be… good, wouldn’t it?
Tom: Um… well…
Norquist: Okay, great, I’ll get right on it! Bill me.
Tom: My initial consultations are free of charge.
Norquist: Really? Outstanding! Thanks and goodbye!