NPR Profiles Grover Norquist, Who Hides His Donors, Isn't Wonky, and Doesn't Want Government to Work Better

On Thursday’s All Things Considered, NPR profiled conservative activist Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform. Michele Norris began: “In the debate over the debt ceiling, one person who has outsized influence is not actually at the negotiating table.” That might sound good to Norquist’s donors, but when liberal reporters accuse someone of “outsized influence,” it means “too much power for the good of the country.”

Reporter Ari Shapiro signaled hostility by strangely noting that Norquist’s “donor list is not public,” when that is true for almost every tax-exempt political group in Washington (not to mention NPR!):

ARI SHAPIRO: I spoke with Norquist Tuesday in his downtown Washington office, where he runs the group Americans for Tax Reform. The group says its money comes from individuals and companies, but the donor list is not public. Norquist has never been a numbers wonk. He's not the kind of guy who pores over complicated tax formulas.

GROVER NORQUIST: I was a math guy as a kid. I was really good at math but I wasn't particularly interested in it.

SHAPIRO: He says in his line of work the most important element of math is the little symbol pointing to the left that means less than.

NORQUIST: Less government, less regulation, lower taxes. So that little, you know, less than sign, that's a pretty good part of the math.

Norquist may insist the tax issue is simple – it’s all about “less than” – but Shapiro somehow had to make it sound like Norquist isn’t very wonky and is not a guy who works with “complicated tax formulas.” As if Norquist and ATR never work with numbers, never read through a tax bill or an ObamaCare bill? To NPR listeners, this is code for “not very sophisticated, not very intelligent.”

It also means that Norquist “lives in a world without nuance.” Has NPR spent any time with liberals in this debt-limit debate to find a lonely left-winger who perhaps “lives in a world without nuance” about reductions in Medicare and Social Security growth? It's always interesting to see the network that fired Juan Williams for appearing on Fox News accuse someone else of a hard line:

SHAPIRO: The yes or no can sometimes get a little gray, and lawmakers will come to you to find out whether a specific bill fulfills the pledge or not.

NORQUIST: Actually the pledge is always clear cut. The only time people come and ask me whether something is or isn't a tax increase is when they know G.D. well it is a tax increase and they're hoping to slip it past.

SHAPIRO: And that's one of many things that drives Norquist's critics up the wall. They say he lives in a world without nuance. To him, a vote to eliminate loopholes and corporate giveaways is only permissible if lawmakers cut an equal amount in taxes elsewhere. Neera Tanden is with the liberal Center for American Progress.

NEERA TANDEN (Chief Operating Officer, Center for American Progress): I mean, that's what's amazing about Grover Norquist. It's not that he's created an anti-tax allergic reaction within the Republican Party. It's that he's been able to define anything that takes away tax subsidies for corporations as a tax increase.

SHAPIRO: To Norquist, it all comes back to the less than symbol. His goal is not to perfect the tax code. He doesn't aspire to make government work better. Tax cuts for him are just a means to the end of shrinking government. Our job, he says, is to make people free.

“He doesn’t aspire to make government work better”? You can accuse Norquist of wanting to reduce government, and perhaps insist that tax cuts are more about reducing government more than economic stimulus. But isn’t the “Tax Reform” in the group’s title a better-government idea? Would Shapiro ever put on a liberal and say “He doesn’t aspire to make government work better, he just wants it bigger”?

Shapiro probably came to this story idea from a Tuesday Washington Post profile of Norquist by Jason Horowitz, who somehow imbued Norquist with religious fervor, or was simply making a joke about the “sacred” and tax hikes:

The sacred texts from which Grover Norquist draws his political power are hidden in a secret fireproof safe.

“I keep the originals in a vault, in case D.C. burns down,” said Norquist, referring to the pledge that his organization asks politicians to sign, vowing to “oppose any and all efforts” to raise taxes. “When someone takes the pledge, you don’t want it tampered with; you don’t want it destroyed.”

For more than two decades, signing Norquist’s pledge has been an almost religious rite of passage for Washington Republicans.

Horowitz took up this shtick again at the end of his Post story:

Norquist has reciprocated by deifying Reagan, despite the fact that the president raised taxes several times. He runs the Reagan Legacy Project, which led the charge to rename National Airport and has stamped Reagan’s name on more than 100 schools, highways, gardens, missile silos and roundabouts around the world. He suggests, half-seriously, that “there is space for one more” on Mount Rushmore.

But Norquist’s main mission is keeping his members devout.

Do liberal reporters like Horowitz somehow forget the “almost religious” fervor with which the media promoted Barack Obama? Was Obama “deified” by the press? Or was he simply "revered" before he was even inaugurated?

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis