No magic formula can tell us how to vote. This year, however, we should vote against any candidate who promises never to raise taxes. Whatever the other merits of Mitt Romney and most Republican House candidates, we should not vote for any of them since they have accepted the pledge popularized by Grover Norquist that they will never increase taxes.
The Norquist Pledge makes it harder to reduce taxes when circumstances permit. No rational legislator would vote for tax decreases if he or she knew that it would be impossible to raise them again if circumstances made increases advisable? (Perhaps that is why Congress agreed to the Bush tax cuts only if they would “sunset” after a few years.)
The Norquist Pledge also precludes taking advantage of good opportunities. Barack Obama never took the pledge, but perhaps his biggest mistake in 2008 was to promise never to raise taxes on the middle class.
Obama was unable to support a single-payer medical insurance system, since it would require raising taxes on everybody (there not being enough rich people to pay for it just by “soaking” them). The result was Obamacare, an administrative mess which leaves millions of Americans uninsured. Obamacare will cost Americans a lot more than a simple Medicare-for-all system would have cost.
The Norquist Pledge also makes our system more rigid and therefore more likely to break when stressed. Most people would rather pay higher taxes than to crash the economic system within which we live, which would impoverish everybody.
Perhaps we should never vote for candidates who make any kind of iron-clad promises. As Edmund Burke, speaking to the electors of
classically put it, “Your representative
owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of
serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” England
Better by far to emulate Burke: “Their [his constituents’] wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living.”
President Obama, in his recent acceptance speech, didn’t renew his promise not to raise taxes on the middle class. He did accuse Mitt Romney of planning to do so. Casual listeners might think this was a promise not raise taxes himself, but he didn’t actually say this. This is progress compared with his unwise promise in 2008!
Until most Republican politicians reject the Norquist Pledge, voters should reject them out of hand, at least at the national level. Who knows, with any luck the 2012 elections may produce another “Goldwater landslide” like took place in 1964, when voter rejection of a perceived extremist produced such a heavily Democratic Congress that it was able to pass Medicare and the Voting Rights Act.
What could a re-elected Obama and strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress do? Well, how about they repeal Obamacare (with enthusiastic Republican support) and then enact Medicare-for-all. They could name the new insurance program in honor of Grover Norquist, who helped make it possible.
This article has run in the Portland Oregonian and in the Adrian (Michigan) Daily Telegram.