Much ink has been spilt over Grover Norquist’s tax pledge. Ululating Democrats blame the coming economic apocalypse on it. A few pusillanimous Republicans forage for an indulgence annulling their oath. The mainstream media declare Norquist a modern-day Rasputin. But whether one loathes or loves the tax pledge, one thing is indisputable: It’s effective.
In the final analysis, it’s unlikely that the tax pledge is the reason Republicans refuse to raise taxes. After all, for a generation, the only unassailable consensus in the Republican Party is that tax increases lead to economic calamity. No serious observer of politics could have missed an entire political party moving in lock step for years, yet it is the pledge that gets all the credit and all the blame for congressional Republicans who refuse to raise taxes. It is as if cognitive dissonance has descended on our political class. But, demonizing Norquist and his “evil” pledge is not only ineffective; it is self-defeating.
The real question Norquist’s detractor should be asking is “how can we organize a pledge?”
Politicians are not innovators. Joe Biden might be the most famous plagiarist in town, but he is certainly not the only denizen of the Beltway to borrow a clever idea here and there. Yet, when it comes to stealing the most effective idea in a decade, no one makes a move. Scores of organizations have worthy causes, with significant support, yet they don’t even consider requiring a congressional pledge of support for their issue. Why is that?
I have a theory: It’s not cricket. Too many advocates of good causes in our nation’s capital don’t want to be seen as boorish ruffians forcing the exalted statesmen of our Congress to keep their promises. It’s just not done. So, most congressmen blithely ignore their issues. And no issue is more ignored than reforming the abusive political system Congress protects.
It’s time those who want real reform in Congress took a page out of Grover Norquist’s playbook. It’s time for another pledge. This time, citizens need to demand of their lawmakers that they will sponsor and do everything in their power to pass legislation that instantly wipes away almost a century’s worth of corruption and cronyism. Congressmen need to sign on the dotted line: If they don’t sponsor and vote for a serious omnibus reform bill, they have broken their pledge. If they break their pledge, it’s time to throw them out. Voters need to put their feet to the fire. And they need to know what fire should be singeing those feet.
For openers, members of Congress and their staff should be forbidden from cashing in on their government service. When their term has finished, or when a staff member has served a decade, it’s time to move on. No longer will members and staff glide seamlessly into the law and lobbying firms that dot the business district of our nation’s capital, reaping salaries many times in excess of their congressional emolument. Furthermore, all laws Congress passes shall be applied to them. This is the source of the insidious insider-trading scandal that has recently racked Capitol Hill. Do they really think their sub-10-percent approval rating has nothing to do with the fact that they live outside the law?
Term limits is the next item needed for our reform bill. This is the one lobbyists hate the most – trust me, I’m a recovered lobbyist! When congressmen and senators spend decades in the corridors of power, they spend our money with abandon and feather their nests with aplomb. The best and brightest of our nation will still desire to serve in Congress, but they need to go home before they have to be carted out on a gurney.
The reform bill needs to remove bribery from our political system. I know it’s not polite to call every moneyed interaction between a public official and a lobbyist bribery, but that’s what it is. How else can we view the conveyance of a contribution or a meal to a public servant by someone who wants something from them? It’s bribery and it has to stop. Our reform bill will include a total ban on any funds, favors or gratuities from lobbyists, or those seeking special advantages from the government, to any public servant. Nothing. Not a penny. Not a glass of water.
There are more things that can be done, but these are a good start. Plus, these are measures that enjoy wide support from both liberals and conservatives. It’s not a matter of left or right. It’s a matter of right and wrong, and people of goodwill who want to clean up our system can agree at least on these few items.
A Good Government Pledge, with all the teeth of the Taxpayers Pledge, is what our nation needs to restore faith in our political process. The archons enriched by their public service might think discontent with their perquisite system is confined to the toothless and genial, but they are wrong.
Whether they wake up in time to save their jobs is the real question.