The president of the right-wing advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist (who, in a stunning upset, was recently named the single-most annoying "Grover" ever), has a mission: He wants politicians to sign his pledge promising that, if elected, they will under no circumstances introduce or raise taxes. On a recent episode of "The Colbert Report," Stephen Colbert asked Norquist what he would do if terrorists threatened to kill everybody's "Nana" unless taxes were raised slightly on the richest one per-cent of Americans. Norquist said something to the effect that Nana had had a good run.
You've got to admire intellectual consistency.
Of course, Colbert posed the question as a joke, and one should give Norquist the benefit of the doubt. Surely he was playing along for laughs, right? Right?
At any rate, Norquist's opposition to taxes is beside the point. He's a right-wing zealot, and he's entitled to his opinion. But what about this whole "pledge" thing. What, exactly, is the point? From a political perspective, signing's a no-brainer--at least for those who want the imprimatur of a major conservative organization: You sign the pledge, you get Norquist's endorsement (and presumably access to his Rolodex of well-heeled co-religionists). Since, as a good conservative, you likely oppose tax increases anyway, why wouldn't you do this?
At the same time, the pledge is completely non-binding. It's not like you get expelled from office or jailed or flogged if you break it. (Now THAT would be interesting!) Sure once you're in office, if you break the pledge and support some form of tax increase, you can expect to suffer consequences from Norquist and his ilk in subsequent elections. But you will suffer these consequences anyway if you support tax increases whether you originally signed the pledge or not. As a smart politician (not an oxymoron), you sign the pledge and then do whatever you're going to do anyway: You have no need to buy Norquist's cow when he's already given you the milk for free. Or, to put it another way, once you leave the $20 on Norquist's nightstand, you really don't owe him anything else.
All these right-wing loons tell you incessantly that Washington (i.e., professional politicians) is corrupt and evil and untrustworthy. But somehow they believe that getting people to sign a non-binding pledge, which they obviously do for the sole reason of sucking up to potential voters in a naked bid for electoral success, will sufficiently convince these "corrupt" politicians to keep their word. If Norquist believes this, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell him cheap--I'll even sign a pledge to do so.