Grover Norquist is a private American citizen who has convinced a significant number of lawmakers that their careers will be better off if they promise their constituents not to confiscate more of their money through taxes. Against the backdrop of fiscal cliff negotiations that steadfastly refuse to contemplate addressing the single biggest cause of the cliff-inducing deficit–the grotesque expansion of the federal government–this is how Norquist is being described as of late:
David Horsey, Los Angeles Times:
Grover Norquist, GOP ayatollah, is losing his grip on the party [...]
Ayatollahs seem to just appoint themselves and then start enforcing their own brand of orthodoxy. Grover Norquist has been doing that in the Republican Party for years.
Slate's Jacob Weisberg, on Twitter:
Honecker, Ceaucescu, Mubarak.. Norquist
Frank Bruni, New York Times:
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Representative Peter King of New York...stressed that the country's current fiscal woes trumped vows made in less debt-ridden times, and over on "Fox News Sunday," Senator John McCain signaled a receptiveness to new revenue, another dagger to Norquist's dark heart. [...]
It's as if some spell has at long last been broken, and the formerly bewitched villagers are rising up to defy their evil overlord and insist on the possibility of life and even mirth without a deduction for corporate jets.
Christopher Moraff, Philadelphia magazine:
The Rise and Fall of Anti-Tax Terrorist Grover Norquist
Daryl Rowland, Huffington Post:
In the same way that McCarthyism now largely overshadows the early days of the Eisenhower administration, the W. Bush and Obama years will be seen as the stage on which Grover Norquist's domination of domestic policy took place. [...]
McCarthy was of course a public figure, while Norquist has been largely a stealth tyrant, in the glorious tradition of figures like Cardinal Richelieu or Rasputin.
FTR & FWIW, I think Norquist's success has paradoxically undermined his oft-stated goal of reducing the size of government, because it has given Republicans cheap cover on looking fiscally conservative even though almost none of them have been serious about the hard part of that equation, which is actually cutting stuff. I further think it has incentivized the Swiss-cheesification of the tax code, with preferential, distorting tax treatment doled out to favored constituencies and then given immediate de facto protection from a pledge that only accepts deduction-eliminations when coupled with overall rate reductions. I think the mortgage interest deduction is a plague on our lives and should be junked.
But comparing a citizen's attempts to keep tax rates low with the behavior of murderous dictators reveals much more about the ideology of the analogists than of their target. There is a crucial distinction between a private individual attempting to restrain democratic government and a public tyrant using unrestrained government to suppress democratic individuals.
For some interesting Reason interviews with Grover Norquist, including his repeated (and arguable!) assertions that it's bad to get worked up about deficits, start backward from this 2011 conversation with Peter Suderman.