Grover Norquist is everywhere. In recent weeks, the head honcho at Americans for Tax Reform has been profiled, lauded, or excoriated by a slew of media outlets. I was interviewed earlier this week for a piece on NPR, and a quick search turns up recent items at CNN, The Week, the Washington Post, and the New York Review of Books, among others. The guy is really on a tear.
During the NPR interview, I was asked if I could think of a left-leaning counterpart to Norquist. I was stumped. A bunch of people came to mind, notably Bob McIntyre at Citizens for Tax Justice and Bob Greenstein at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. But neither seemed to fit the bill very well. Sure, McIntyre and Greenstein have been important and highly influential voices for progressive tax policy. But neither has reshaped political debate in Norquistian fashion.
Norquist's unparalleled influence stems from his role as enforcer. Armed with his (in)famous anti-tax pledge, he's the undisputed master of political arm-twisting. No one on the left plays that sort of role. And I doubt anyone ever could -- Democrats are just too damn undisciplined (read: tolerant of ideological diversity, for better or worse).
Also, McIntyre and Greenstein are entirely too knowledgeable when it comes to tax policy to ever be compared to Norquist. It's never struck me that Grover cares very much about tax policy, per se. He only cares about taxes on the macro level, since he uses them as a proxy for the size of government. (Which is a crass oversimplification and hopeless distortion, since low taxes and high spending make for a very big sort of government).
Norquist revels in his passion for oversimplification. Most political issues are complicated, he told NPR, with many lots of facets and nuances. By contrast, he said, "The tax issue, size of government, has one. Up or down, yes or no. It's binary."
Despite the risk of comparing apples and oranges, I still think it's valuable to ponder who might be the left's anti-Grover. So here's my challenge to readers: send me your nominations for a progressive counterpart (use the comments below or tweet it to me @jthorndike) and in a future piece, I'll survey the field. Who knows, maybe we can find someone who fits the bill.