WASHINGTON - Sometimes, only satire can capture the absurdity of the moment. A recent headline from The Onion read: "Congressman Torn Between Meaningless Pledge to Anti-Tax Zealot, Well-Being of Nation." It's funny - and also frightening - because it underscores a basic truth about our politics.
Grover Norquist, an unelected right-wing lobbyist accountable to no one except his wealthy funders, has had the Republican Party in his hip pocket for several decades. All but a handful of congressional Republicans have signed his pledge never, ever to raise taxes. Perhaps no other individual is more responsible for the intransigence and irresponsibility of the modern GOP.
Remember the Republican presidential debate when all the candidates raised their hands to say they would not accept even a budget deal that included 10 dollars in spending cuts for every dollar of tax increases? It was Norquist's power that they feared at that moment.
With the "fiscal cliff" deadline looming, it is time finally for the Republicans to exercise true statesmanship by defying Norquist and asking the most privileged among us to assume a little more sacrifice.
Allowing the upper-bracket Bush tax breaks to expire simply restores the tax rates of the Clinton years, a time of unprecedented, widely-shared prosperity. By contrast, the supply-side/trickle-down philosophy has failed at everything except making the wealthy wealthier.
The money to close the deficit will come from somewhere. If it doesn't come from upper-income Americans, then it will be taken from middle-class working families who have already taken a punch to the gut during this economic downturn. It will come from poor families who need a hand-up to get back on their feet. It will be taken from seniors who have worked a lifetime and earned a dignified retirement.
But the bottom line is this: any cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits are unacceptable. As a matter of fundamental fairness and moral decency, our fiscal policy cannot be based on coddling those who have the most and squeezing those who have the least.
In fact, Social Security is not paid for out of the general fund and therefore has no impact on the federal deficit.
The Norquist vision, as he has famously said, is a government so small "we can drown it in the bathtub." He apparently believes that people who need government support ought to be washed down the drain. But what we need is a government that helps Americans stay confidently afloat, even through tough storms and choppy waters.
That's what Americans voted for last month. They emphatically rejected Mitt Romney's view that 47 percent of our people are undeserving freeloaders with no sense of personal responsibility. They voted for more progressive taxation; they voted for a fair shake for everyone; they voted for a level playing field and a government that is on their side.
Grover Norquist speaks for a minority faction and a narrow special interest, not for the American people.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll from a few weeks ago showed 60 percent of Americans supporting an increase in taxes for every dollar earned beyond $250,000 a year as a way of addressing the so-called fiscal cliff. The good news is there are signs Norquist's grip is loosening. Several Republican lawmakers have indicated a willingness to violate the "pledge" in order to solve the deficit problem, though most still want to cut middle-class programs as well.
Norquist has responded with bizarre personal outbursts, equating the pledge with marital vows and saying of one Republican member: "I hope his wife understands that commitments last a little more than two years or something." It's time for Republicans to break free from Norquist's clutches. For the good of the country and also the Republican Party, it's time to toss Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge over the cliff.