Some Republican Lawmakers Are Turning Their Backs on Grover Norquist

Grover Norquist's most famous statement is the one about lowering taxes with a purpose. "I don't want to abolish government," Norquist said. "I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."

Think about his imagery. Dragging and murdering a small living thing with calculated pre-meditation. Classy! You think that's an over-reaction? Norquist, the anti-tax zealot, has said worse things.

In 2004, Norquist told the Washington Post a plan to raise taxes on wealthy people was, "The Richard Speck strategy. If you cannot take on everyone in the room at once, take them out of the room one at a time."

Now that's really witty and deeply historical, too. For those who have forgotten, Richard Speck was the crazed, alcoholic drifter who murdered eight student nurses in Chicago in 1966 by stabbing and strangling them, and raping a few, too.

What sort of political figure would use such metaphors? Certainly one not elected by the public. It would have to come from a man like Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform and a toxic actor on the national political scene.

But his power may be on the wane. For a quarter-century, Norquist has bullied politicians, mostly Republicans, into signing a no-tax pledge. The pledge is supposed to be for a lifetime, longer than a Rush Limbaugh marriage or Mitt Romney's position on any issue.

But some good news came earlier this month when 40 House Republicans signed a letter urging the congressional "super committee" to consider revenue increases as part of the solution to the debt problem. The 12-member committee has until Nov. 23 to cut at least $1.2 trillion from the budget over the next decade.

Many of them had also signed Norquist's pledge in the past. Norquist, flippant as ever, responded to the news by telling the Post, "Consider anything. Just don't vote for a tax increase."

But some Republicans shot back. Rep. John Boehner, the oily-eyed Speaker of the House who speaks with what we must assume is just a lisp, shrugged off a question about Norquist's influence by saying, "It's not often I'm asked about some random person in America."

Norquist didn't seem so random to Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator from Wyoming. He said Norquist "has people in thrall." Certainly, this has been the case until now.

The Wall Street Journal, official record of right-wing thinking, reported Friday that 236 of 242 House Republicans have signed the Norquist pledge, as well as 40 of 47 Senate Republicans. And you wonder why nothing rational gets done in Washington?

Norquist rose to power during the Reagan era, when anti-government rhetoric was ascendant. He was a major pusher of the Bush tax cuts that turned Clinton-era black ink into Bush's red river. Norquist is also a member of the board of directors of the National Rifle Association, a group whose policies assist mass murderers.

Like the NRA, Norquist uses one-issue leverage with deadly efficiency to scare the common sense out of elected officials. He represents the hard core of right-wing radicalism in American politics with roots in the crackpot philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Rand, a Russian-born atheist, wrote the 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, more than 1,100 tedious pages propagating greed and selfishness while disparaging the poor or misfortunate as parasites, looters and moochers.

Despite some of the most turgid prose and plodding plotting in the history of the English language, Rand's book was -- and still is -- extremely successful and influential.

She helped warp the thinking of Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Chairman whose "greed is good" attitude led to the disastrous financial bubble of the Bush era. He was a personal friend of Rand who attended indoctrination sessions at her home.

"I engaged in the all-night debates and wrote spirited commentary for her newsletter," Greenspan wrote. "I'm grateful for the influence she had on my life. I was intellectually limited until I met her."

Another power broker swayed by her book was Republican Paul Ryan, the scheming Wisconsin congressman who wants to attack Social Security so that wealthy people can have more money.

These people treat Atlas Shrugged as holy scripture. They are part of a cult and, like some cults, can be extremely dangerous. Nevertheless, the book has been made into a movie that even conservative critics have panned.

But that didn't discourage Norquist from this Twitter post on Nov. 9: "Atlas Shrugged, Part 1... Worth seeing."

Perhaps, in a way Norquist did not intend, it is indeed worth seeing. The book is worth reading, if only to understand the malicious wrong-headedness of powerful people who threaten to drown our nation in a bathtub filled with red ink.