The Norquist Moment

John Dickerson explains why Grover Norquist’s technical point about the Bush tax cuts won’t have much long-run meaning.

It is not realistic to think that a Republican member of Congress—formerly cowed by the Norquist pledge—would use this technicality as an opportunity to leap into newfound bravery. Nor is it realistic to think that he or she would do very well in the face of Norquist’s promised denunciations. This kind of strict textual interpretation of the promise may have saved Antonio from losing his pound of flesh, but the laws of politics are a little looser than those of Venice. As Norquist said in the Post interview, “You may get me to say technically you’ve done x,y, or z, but it doesn’t pass the laugh test with the American people.”

The whole thing is doing good by Norquist’s visibility. He tells Joe Conason that he’s worried about default. He gets an NYT op-ed re-explaining his position. Still, the amount of time and hope invested in talking about Norquist’s statements is out of scale with the importance of the statements. Elected Republicans have (mostly) signed his pledge. Presidential candidates will sign his pledge. They do it not because they’re afraid of him, and take instructions from him. They do it because they believe, down to their souls, that tax cuts increase revenue and tax increases curb growth. How many votes does Norquist move on the debt limit? I’d guess “not many,” and guess that the meeting betwen S&P advisors and 30 GOP freshmen yesterday did more.