THE BLOG
11/27/2012 03:52 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2013

Grover Norquist and World War II

Poor Grover Norquist. In recent interviews he pleads that all he's trying to do is keep politicians honest. Talk about cleaning the stables, but he's willing to sacrifice; Grover is the man for this job. When questioned about why he is relentlessly enforcing his no-tax pledge, he replied that all he is doing is making sure that politicians keep their word. When they signed on they made a promise -- not to him but to the voters. He just wants to make sure they don't deceive constituents. Is that so bad?

Yes it is. In fact, it's very bad. It hobbles the United States and keeps it from being a great nation. But I should calm down. Blind devotion to the pledge really has only one little flaw. It doesn't recognize that we are not stuck in time, that the world changes, and that we must respond to these shifts.

Let's take a couple of prime examples. In the first, a congressman signs the pledge in 1932. Seems like a good idea. We're at the nadir of the Great Depression, the last thing the country needs is new taxes. Even a fool could see that. So of course he signs.

Unfortunately, our congressman holds to it; he agrees with Norquist, and doesn't want to betray the voters. Instead he betrays his country. Move ahead one decade. America is fully involved in World War II. Still reeling from Pearl Harbor, we are ramping up to become the world's arsenal of democracy. In later years this will be a source of great pride to Americans.

Too bad it never happened. Thanks to our congressman's fidelity to no taxes, this nation's war effort is hamstrung before it starts. Faced with a crisis, we can't respond. No new troops, no new guns, no new planes, no new ships. Thanks to Grover Norquist, we make a brief, weak effort, withdraw from the war, and leave the world to its fate. The Allies win -- or lose -- without us.

Fast forward. Our congressman didn't sign the pledge after all, or didn't blindly follow it, so the U.S. joined and helped win the war.

But now it's 1946. The conflict is over. It's time to ramp down, cut back, scale the size of government to peace time needs. Our second example concerns an earnest senator who signs on at this point. Who wouldn't? And as Norquist insists, who wouldn't remain faithful to his pledge?

Only one small problem. A couple of years pass and we're in the middle of the Cold War. Truman delivers his famous doctrine, but we can't do anything about it, can't defend our interests in a changing world, can't become leader when no one else can. There is no Berlin Airlift, no Marshall Plan. And Korea has gone communist, because the West was too weak to respond. Thanks so much faithful senator, and a shout out to Grover Norquist as well.

Life changes. Our role in the world changes, as well as our needs at home. Our responses should be thought about and debated, never a blind reaction. But if we constrain ourselves before the discussion even begins, our ability to respond, to lead, will diminish severely. I'm just glad Grover Norquist wasn't around when we faced the great challenges of the last century. What will his acolytes do when we face the hurdles of this one?

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