Happy Warrior

Republican agitator Grover Norquist on building a "leave-us-alone coalition"

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The problem is that the federal government hands out billions of dollars, and people will lie, cheat, steal, or bribe to get it. If you have a big cake, and you put it under the sink and then you wonder why the cockroaches are in your kitchen, I don't think any sprays or blocking the holes in the walls are going to get rid of the cockroaches. You've got to throw the cake in the trash so that the cockroaches don't have something to come for.

Take last year's phase-out of farm subsidies. Here you had a corporate welfare system that helped Republicans, and what did we do? We phased it out. Why? Because a farmer who might get a subsidy is part small businessman and part welfare recipient. That's like the guy with the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other one. One says, "You're a Republican, you're a businessman," and the other one says, "No, you're a Democrat, you get money from the government."

Well, we just killed that devil, and now farmers are just heavily armed small businessmen [laughter]. They have nothing--nothing in common with the Democratic Party. You think Tom Daschle [the Senate minority leader] could win another election in South Dakota? He doesn't agree with the people in South Dakota on social issues, on foreign policy, on guns, on taxes, on spending. The one thing he could do is go to every wheat farmer and say, "I will get you more than the Republicans will." And it's true. No Republican could outbid Daschle. I think the Democrats have lost five Senate seats permanently: North and South Dakota and Iowa. Track the next 20 years versus the last 20 years, and there will be five fewer Democrats.

It's in our interest to kill all of those cross-subsidies. Our job is to hunt down all economic rents and kill them, extinguish them. Because all economic rents breed Democrats like cockroaches.

Reason: You think the 1988 Beck decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that union dues can't be used for partisan political purposes, is very important. Neither the Bush nor Clinton administrations has enforced Beck. Since unions targeted Republicans so openly and viciously this election cycle, do you think the new Congress might try to pass legislation implementing Beck?

Norquist: Clinton will veto it. It will take a Republican president to enforce it.

But that decision will help us break the unions. The decision was seven to two, not some close vote. The Court said that, under the Wagner Act, the only resources that can be taken as compulsory unions dues are those that are spent on the negotiation and maintenance of your contract. Labor unions cannot take compulsory dues from you and organize the factory down the street or buy a house for [AFL-CIO President] John Sweeney. So it doesn't just ban political money.

Courts have ruled that only about 20 percent of union dues go to [legal purposes] right now. So if Beck was enforced and everybody took advantage of it, you would reduce the cash flow to unions by maybe $8 billion. Like that! [Snaps fingers.]

If 10 percent of union members did it, that's $800 million a year, and that's a lot. Average dues are around 500 bucks a year, so as soon as somebody figured out that they could get $400 back, everybody would want their $400 back. It would crush labor unions as a political entity.

Reason: You have worked with the Libertarian Party in the past. When and why?

Norquist: In the 1978, '79, and '80 races I ran a group called the Tax Action Coalition. Ed Clark [the 1980 L.P. presidential nominee] was the chairman. I've found that Libertarian Party activists make the best tax activists because they never get involved in the silly questions about which tax is preferable. They understand that the total tax burden is the total amount of freedom taken away from you, and it needs to be reduced as quickly and as completely as is humanly possible.

Much like the pro-life movement and the Christian right, the Libertarian Party has gotten much more sophisticated and presentable over the last 20 years. That's a tremendous asset. As a presidential candidate, Harry Browne was reasonable, non-threatening, and educated a lot of people on a lot of issues.

The Leave-Us-Alone Coalition and the American ideology are libertarian. That's what it means to be an American. Almost everyone has a little deviation from that, but almost everybody almost all the time wants freedom, which is a big step forward, say, from living in France or Germany.

Reason: Talk about your "in half" initiative.

Norquist: It's an initiative of ATR. I am writing a book, called In Half: How and Why We Cut the Government in Half in One Generation, 25 Years. I picked 25 years because I assume setbacks, I assume bad times as well as good. Obviously if you speed up growth, you can get to government taking only half as large a percentage of the economy quicker.

But if you privatize Social Security, if you voucherize education, if you sell the $270 billion worth of airports and wastewater treatment plants, eliminate welfare, and so on, you can get the federal government, state government, and local government to basically half of its present level of costs. Instead of 33 percent of the economy, make it 16.5 percent of the economy.

I think we could do it a lot faster if we elected the right guys, but I think it's politically doable to say, here's our goal: Cut the government in half. I think it's important to have a clearly articulated goal. And I think the movement would buy into the idea that yes, we want to move toward the government's being half its present size. That's a radical enough and big enough step that it's worth the journey. Then in 25 years I intend to write a sequel: How to Cut the Government in Half Again.

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