Watching this 60 Minutes segment on Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform pledge this past Sunday night — “The Pledge: Grover Norquist’s hold on the GOP” — it occurred to me that his story has some very familiar aspects.
Think about the way Norquist zeroes in on aspiring Republican politicians early in their careers and makes their daunting dreams come true — in exchange for one simple pledge. Think about how he collects these signatures and forces them to do the unthinkable years later, after they have attained power.
As Republican former senator Alan Simpson describes in the piece, he has talked to Republicans who regret signing Norquist’s pledge: “They come up to us and say, ‘Save us from ourselves. I got trapped by this guy.’
Among their classic Household Stories, the Brothers Grimm included the tale of a tyrannical little man who spins straw into gold for a miller’s daughter — but makes her promise to give him her first born child after she becomes queen.
Her immediate necessity outweighs this fanciful future, so she agrees. But after the king marries her and she gives birth, the ruthless little man returns. He insists on holding her to her pledge, and will accept no compromise whatsoever.
In the 60 Minutes segment, former Sen. Alan Simpson says this about Grover Norquist:
He may well be the most powerful man in America today. So if that’s what he wants, he’s got it. You know, he’s — megalomaniac, ego maniac, whatever you want to call him. If that’s his goal, he’s damn near there. He ought to run for president because that will be his platform: ‘No taxes, under any situation, even if your country goes to hell.’
As I have written previously, another show we’ve been watching on Sunday nights is ABC’s Once Upon a Time. In it, Rumpelstiltskin (played by Robert Carlyle) inhabits a modern day town in Maine where he’s known as “Mr. Gold.”
Like Grover Norquist, Mr. Gold makes deals with the vulnerable which he later enforces mercilessly. In the November 13th episode, “The Price of Gold,” Rumpelstiltskin emphasizes that, “All magic comes with a price.” Something precious must be given up in exchange for his cooperation.
In the case of Grover Norquist, that price is nothing less than our government — our “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” in the words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Where Rumpelstiltskin sought to take a precious child from its mother, Norquist has said he simply wants to reduce our government “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
The happy ending of the fairy tale is that Rumpelstiltskin does not get the baby.
Instead, the miller’s daughter-turned-queen is able to find out his name from a messenger, who witnesses the odd little man gloating and dancing around a fire. During this dance, he calls himself “Rumpelstiltskin.”
The queen names him to his face, and Rumpelstiltskin is foiled:
“The devil told you that! the devil told you that!” cried the little man, and in his anger he stamped with his right foot so hard that it went into the ground above his knee; then he seized his left foot with both his hands in such a fury that he split in two, and there was an end of him.”
The little slimeball is undone by simply saying his name.
So imagine if Democratic leaders would casually mention once or twice, in public, that Grover Norquist is Rumpelstiltskin. Imagine if Nancy Pelosi, for example, said something like, “I don’t care if the GOP made a deal with Rumpelstiltskin. We have not.”
A statement like that would catch the attention of the media, the truth of the comparison would register instantly with voters, and all congressional Republicans beholden to Norquist — 279 of them, by 60 Minutes‘ count — would be sorely disadvantaged by their alliance with Rumpelstiltskin.
Grover Norquist is Rumpelstiltskin. Pass it on.