In Grover Norquist’s World, Ronald Reagan Is a “Rat Head in a Coke Bottle”

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/5448693937/sizes/m/in/photostream/">Gage Skidmore</a>/Flickr

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On Sunday night, 60 Minutes‘ Steve Kroft profiled the man who’s done more than anyone to ensure that Congress’ budget-slashing supercommittee goes down in flames: anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist.

Norquist, who runs the group Americans for Tax Reform, is best known for his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge.” Those who sign the pledge, usually Republican members of Congress, vow to oppose all tax increases. “Pledge” signers include 270 members of Congress, among them House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as well as every GOP presidential candidate except for Jon Huntsman. Indeed, the refusal of any notable Republican in Congress to stomach tax increases as part of this summer’s debt ceiling deal or the supercommittee’s plan to cut $1.2 trillion from the national deficit is owes largely to Norquist’s “Pledge.” Those who break it face Norquist’s wrath when re-election time rolls around. Norquist told Kroft his organization will fund ads opposing that candidate “to encourage them to go into another line of work, like shoplifting or bank robbing, where they have to do their own stealing.”

But perhaps the most curious moment of the interview came when Norquist described his role as simply protecting the Republican brand, just as Coca-Cola ensures the quality of its signature product:

Norquist: ‘Cause let’s say you take that Coke bottle home, and you get home, and you’re two thirds of the way through the Coke bottle. And you look down at what’s left in your Coke bottle is a rat head there. You wonder whether you’d buy Coke ever again. You go on TV, and you show ’em the rat head in the Coke bottle. You call your friends, and tell them about it. And Coke’s in trouble.

Republicans who vote for a tax increase are rat heads in a Coke bottle. They damage the brand for everyone else.

Norquist belongs to a group of conservative stalwarts who idolize Ronald Reagan and his economic policies. A bust of Reagan sits on Norquist’s desk. The irony, of course, is that Reagan himself would’ve repeatedly violated Norquist’s “Pledge” (had he even signed it) during his presidency. Reagan closed business tax loopholes in 1984. He raised corporate taxes in 1986. He hiked capital gains taxes by 40 percent. In all, Reagan raised taxes 11 times in eight years. In Norquist’s world, Reagan was just another “rat head in a Coke bottle.”

The full 60 Minutes profile of Norquist is worth watching, if only to better understand the man behind the fiscal gridlock in Washington. It’s here:

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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