According to wordnet.com, the definition of extremism is ‘any political theory favoring immoderate, uncompromising policies…’
Enter the current negotiations shaping up over the fiscal cliff.
Once again, Republicans find themselves backed into a corner due to their own extremism. This particular extremism centers around a political ideology which takes on faith the notion that it is never good to raise taxes. It is an ideology arising from an essential conservative suspicion of government power. A concern which would be healthy if it weren’t so hypocritical, myopic and self-serving. For Republicans have, traditionally, supported ‘big government’ when it comes to military spending, draconian security laws like the Patriot Act, helping wealthy entities of their choosing, like the fossil fuel industry, and legislating what women can do with their bodies. More positively, many Republicans have tended to support broader scientific endeavors such as space exploration. But this support, which is to their credit, is drastically undercut by a Republican tendency to work to defund and emasculate the government on all levels. Under such an ideological constraint, the US would never have put a man on the moon. The US would never have entered and fought World War II. The US would have never developed a public education system that became a model for the world. And the US would never have built its economy-enhancing infrastructures — such as the power grid and the public highway systems. Revenue was essential for all these ventures and revenue was rightly procured from those most able to pay taxes — to a greater extent from the wealthy and from those well-off enough to stand on their own two feet economically.
Procuring taxes in this way is fair and just. But, increasingly, the Republicans seem to wish to make exempt those who are most wealthy among us while shifting an ever greater burden to those least able to bear it. At the heart of all this pro-wealthy extremism and class warfare is the Grover Norquist pledge to never raise taxes.
Never raising taxes is, in its very essence, a warfare against the US government system. All government systems — including those Republicans traditionally favor. It endlessly undercuts the federal government’s ability to raise money and is, therefore, an existential threat to US government. In the narrow corridors of Republican ideology, the fantasy notion that all government is bad, all government is tyrannical, provides a flimsy justification for legislative warfare against the US democratic and federal systems. But in the real world, this warfare results in massive devastation — crippling critical programs that provide immense benefit to the American people.
FEMA, NOAA, NASA, EPA, The Department of Education, Medicare, Social Security, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, The National Science Foundation, and many, many, many other programs that provide valuable research and services which promote the development and health of our country. These programs result in thousands and thousands of opportunities for jobs and innovation as well as provide major assistance and enablement to Americans in every walk of life. Supports for funding for these programs come from both Republicans and Democrats with many legislators fighting over where these programs will locate their facilities so as to gain economic advantage for their districts.
Yet when it comes to actually funding these key programs, Republicans suffer from ideological paralysis. There is a major disconnect between their notion of the benefit of these programs for their individual states and districts and the need to provide federal revenues to support these programs. Instead, Republicans rely on the failed, and dis-proven throughout history, notion that so long as you cut taxes, economic growth resulting from tax cuts will magically create more revenue than the amount cut. First, no research supports that tax cuts primarily benefiting the rich, like the cuts Republicans continue to support, have any substantial benefit to the economy. If this were the case, the failed Bush Tax Cuts would have resulted in a golden age of economic growth. Instead, under the continuing regime of the Bush Tax Cuts, we have had two recessions and a financial collapse. Not a very good record at all.
Even worse, a political parasite by the name of Grover Norquist has trolled the halls of Congress for decades, circulating a ridiculous pledge. This tax pledge is, in essence, a promise that the signer will never, ever raise taxes.
The ludicrous nature of this pledge is that it cuts against the grain of effective government established since the dawn of time. For a government to be viable, it must be able to generate revenue. And if taxes are endlessly cut, then, eventually, that government will no longer exist. For legislators to sign such a pledge is, in essence, them signing the death knell to their own positions within the government they have, ignorantly, just sworn to destroy.
It is difficult to imagine a greater statement of hatred of the American system of government than in signing a no tax pledge. It is one thing to be ideologically predisposed to generally lower tax rates. It is another thing, altogether, to sign an extremist agreement to never raise taxes again. Unfortunately, a majority of Republicans have signed this insane agreement that is guaranteed to explode the budget deficit, if adhered to.
The complete dis-connect with reality underlying this pledge could best be illustrated by describing its opposite. Suppose Democrats signed a pledge to never cut spending? Over time, government would grow and grow until it came to dominate the entire economy. The result would be a totalitarian government. That said, Democrats have never signed such a pledge. They have cut spending against their interests and ideological leanings again and again. They understand that, sometimes, spending cuts are needed, for the good of the country. They are, in other words, moderate and reasonable. Able to govern effectively without constraint to a single set of narrow values.
Republicans, on the other hand, have chained themselves to totalitarian anarchy — a system that endlessly cuts necessary government to the bone and risks its disintegration.
So consider the fiscal cliff crisis an opportunity for Republicans to show they are, in fact, not extremists. Show that Republicans are, in fact, capable of rational governing. Show that Republicans can compromise as Democrats have. It is time for rational Republicans to step away from the Grover Norquist Tax Pledge and to support reasonable new sources of revenue, like moderately increasing taxes on the top earners in our country.
There is no way to deal with the deficit through spending cuts alone. There is no way to close enough loop holes to deal with the budget crisis. Any deal must include new revenues from top earners. And for this to happen, Republicans are going to have to take a necessary step away from the extremist elements in their party.
Such steps will be difficult. Such steps will result in loud cries from the most extreme and vocal wings of the party. But such steps will help to begin to heal the Republican party, to begin to re-assert its legitimacy and rationality in the eyes of the American people. Sticking to deficit brinksmanship and an allegiance to a man — Grover Norquist — and not to the American system of government is a recipe for the ultimate disintegration of the Republican party.
This is a make or break moment for Republicans, a group I once considered myself a member of. This is a moment of turning — toward a final and deadly embrace of extremism, or away. Away from that terrible trap and back toward the Republican party’s better angels. The moderates. Those who actually remember what Lincoln stood for. Those who actually value the integrity of a functional republic. Those who understand Roosevelt’s crusade against abusive businesses, trusts and robber barons. Those who believe in a strong America — not just in the extreme views espoused by a few narrow individuals.
It is high time for Republicans to decide if they are, in fact, Americans and not just a member of the tribe of Norquist.