WASHINGTON -- The idea that some of the country’s most wealthy progressives would actively court an audience with anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist doesn't exactly jibe with the current hyper-partisan political climate.
But sure enough, last week, Norquist was an invited guest and featured speaker at this year’s Democracy Alliance summit -- an annual gathering of some of the country's most well-to-do liberals.
The meeting, which was reported by the New Yorker on Friday, took place at the headquarters of Media Matters For America, the media watchdog group started by David Brock. What Norquist actually said at the meeting wasn’t entirely clear, mainly because attendees sign a standard non disclosure form and are closely guarded while the festivities are taking place.
One source who was in the room, however, tells The Huffington Post that the organizers brought Norquist in simply to pick his brain. The head of Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist oversees the most enduring "pledge" in Washington D.C. -- a vow by Republican lawmakers to reject all forms of tax increases. Envious progressives wanted to understand how he had inspired such loyalty.
“It was an understand-thy-enemy type of thing,” the source said. “He explained why the pledge worked because it was simple and self-evident and he had not created loopholes in that language … His main point was that once you make the pledge you don’t have to enforce it.”
Norquist delivered his speech before a crowd of 200, after attendees had finished dinner. While there was “a little debate,” according to the source, the mood was generally cordial.
“There were some questions about ideology,” the source said. “But the main focus was on him as an organizer.”
The ideal that progressives would be eager to bottle the secret to Norquist’s success is hardly a novel one. Few non-elected officials in D.C. have managed to assume as much loyalty or authority. And because Democrats tend to be a less dogmatic bunch than Republicans, party operatives are routinely looking for ways to encourage fidelity to ideological causes.
Whether a progressive pledge to counter Norquist’s will materialize from these discussions remains to be seen. There have been rumors that Bob Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, had one in the works. But in an email to The Huffington Post, Borosage denied it.
“What I've said is that we have a de facto pledge on the progressive side -- don't cut Social Security -- that has the same simplicity and force as Grover's pledge,” Borosage said. “It's been enforced against Clinton and against Obama -- although we've never had our George Bush the First moment since no Democratic president to date has gone forward with flirtations on cuts.”
“When Bush made privatizing Social Security his top priority of his second term, we circulated a pledge on Social Security,” he added. “But we haven't pushed an actual written pledge like Grover has. We've simply enforced the promise and kept Dems to it.”