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Politics and Economy:
Transcript: Bill Moyers Interviews Grover Norquist
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Grover Norquist Transcript

BILL MOYERS: If states refuse to raise taxes to fix some of those problems we've just seen, that certainly won't bother my next guest. He's a sworn opponent of all taxes. He's also the most powerful man in Washington not to hold a public office.

Officially, Grover Norquist heads an organization called Americans for Tax Reform where for almost 20 years now he has crusaded for lower taxes and less government. Unofficially he's been the linchpin in Washington for the conservative revolution that now controls the government. His weekly meetings of activists became the politburo of strategy where all stripes of conservatives bear their differences in order to bury their hatchet in Democrats. From the Christian coalition to log cabin Republicans to the National Rifle Association on whose board he sits, this Harvard graduate keeps the troops on mission and on message. His success prompted Senator Hillary Clinton to muse aloud, if only Democrats had a Grover Norquist. Welcome to NOW.

GROVER NORQUIST: Glad to be with you.

BILL MOYERS: Well, you do have it all. You have the White House, the Congress, the regulatory agencies, the courts more or less. The last time Democrats, liberal Democrats, held that kind of power, they made some mistakes like the war in Vietnam that they couldn't sustain the support of at home, emphasized parochial interests at the expense of the sort of bedrock universal values of American society. What are the errors you think conservatives running everything could make?

GROVER NORQUIST: I think it's very important to always make sure that you're talking to the entire coalition and to as many Americans as possible; not to go chasing after one little group or another. The Democrats would bring new groups into their party and not notice that larger groups are going out the back door. And so what I try and do whenever I work on an issue or work with political leaders is make sure that when you're talking about a new approach, how does does the entire coalition view that new approach? Is there a better or different way to do it that irritates fewer people and that satisfies a larger constituency?

BILL MOYERS: And that's what you did at your Wednesday morning meetings? Those meetings became famous, for all kinds of conservatives being in there hammering things out.

GROVER NORQUIST: And we now have 27 versions of that at the state capital level, including one in New York City. So we're taking the model of the "leave us alone" coalition from the national level to the state level as well.

BILL MOYERS: "Leave us alone?"

GROVER NORQUIST: Um-hmm. Look, the center right coalition in American politics today is best understood as a coalition of groups and individuals that on the issue that brings them to politics what they want from the government is to be left alone. Taxpayers, don't raise my taxes. Property owners, don't restrict or limit my property. Home schoolers, let me educate my own kids. Gun owners, don't restrict my Second Amendment rights. All communities of faith, Evangelical Christians, conservative Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, people want to practice their own religion and be left alone to raise their own kids.

BILL MOYERS: Do you have any sympathy for those states we just saw a few moments ago? Under the president's plan, those states do not expect any direct aid from Uncle Sam. Do you have any advice for them?

GROVER NORQUIST: Sure, two things. The most important thing for President Bush and the federal government to do is to create a pro-growth economic policy because its economic growth that brings in more revenue for states and local governments. At the state level what they really have to do is take a long run view and limit the growth of spending, put limits on how much you spend. And then California, the state owns a whole bunch of land and other things that it could sell off it doesn't need, and it needs to figure out which of those government jobs need to be in government, and what can be privatized or contracted out.

BILL MOYERS: What the states are saying, though, is that since they get no direct aid, the conservative philosophy in government is actually pushing them over the cliff now.

GROVER NORQUIST: No, I would argue if you look at those states that have conservative governments, and there are only a few: Colorado, Florida --you're looking at states that are in fairly good shape. We have Reagan-ized the Republican party at the national level over the last 20 years. It has not happened at the state level. What happened at the national level was pre-Reagan we couldn't go to a Republican politician and say, you should be more...they say I should be more what? I'm better than the Democrat I beat, what do you want from me? You should be more like Goldwater, he lost. After Reagan he was the model for House and Senate people, and today 95 percent of House Republicans and 80 percent of Senate Republicans are Reagan Republicans. That does not yet exist at the state level.

BILL MOYERS: But George W. Bush has become like Reagan, too.


BILL MOYERS: Huge tax cuts, huge increases in military spending, and huge deficits. I mean, it does seem to a lot of us that conservatives have become fiscally irresponsible.

GROVER NORQUIST: Well, two things. One was September 11th, the slowdown in economic growth, we went from surpluses into deficit. Spending has been going too rapidly both before President Bush and including into this administration. That's why if you look at his budget there are two sides to it this year. One is the significant tax reduction ending the double taxation of dividend income. The other part that he has talked about and that we're going to be fighting about all year, is spending restraint.

BILL MOYERS: But the spending restraints on defense? There are none there.

GROVER NORQUIST: Well, you had asked, are there some problems conservatives can have? Can we make mistakes? Let me suggest two things we need to be very careful of. We cannot allow anything that's called national defense to justify any and all spending. We need to be very, very careful that we don't overspend and say, oh, that's defense, when perhaps it isn't.

BILL MOYERS: Here's the question. In a time of war and fiscal woe, why not ask rich people-a little sacrifice of rich people?

GROVER NORQUIST: Well, I think what we're looking to do is to create a pro-growth economic policy that will create opportunities for all Americans. The job of the government isn't to go around and try and make people sacrifice, it's to try and make people free. The reason why we have a national defense is to protect our freedoms.

BILL MOYERS: But what about those real people we saw in that film, the woman who needed the health insurance, who needed the health coverage, who was going to have to take $400 out of her $800 a month salary to meet medical costs that she didn't have?

GROVER NORQUIST: I think you have to look at the total level of what government does to her in terms of the taxes that they impose on...

BILL MOYERS: She's not paying much taxes, though, at $800 a month.

GROVER NORQUIST: And she's got...well, she's paying sales tax in that state, she's paying Social Security taxes in that state.

BILL MOYERS: But aren't all of those taxes sort of the membership dues we pay for living in a cooperative and collaborative society?

GROVER NORQUIST: Well, first we have to decide what we want the government to do. What is it legitimate to require with force people to pay for? It is not charity. I mean, guys with guns will show up if you don't pay your taxes and take that money from you. And I think that we want in order to have a free society to have as little as possible done coercively.

BILL MOYERS: Here's The Washington Post, December 16th. "As the Bush administration draws up plans to simply the tax system it is also refining arguments for why it may be necessary to shift more of the tax load on to lower income workers."

GROVER NORQUIST: Well, I haven't seen that argument, but I think the tax load is so heavy that we can reduce it, we don't need to be shifting it, adding it to anywhere else. The President is not talking about increasing anyone's taxes, his proposal is simply one of reducing taxes.

BILL MOYERS: Let me tell you what I think the mistake the conservatives could make, because I saw the Democrats make it. So many Democrats came to Washington as outsiders and stayed to become consummate insiders. And I saw it with Clark Clifford, I saw it with Bob Strauss, I saw it with Vernon Jordan. And all of those people who came to Washington to do good and stayed to do well, they have become the political, lawyerly and lobbyist aristocracy of American life. And I see Republicans doing that, too. I mean, I don't see Dick Armey going home to teach at West Texas State University, he's joining a Washington lawyer lobbying firm. I mean, you all are making the same mistake that the Democrats made, which means both parties are going to wind up serving the American aristocracy.

GROVER NORQUIST: Well, I think we need to be very, very careful about that. I know the activists I deal with, we sort of try and check each other to make sure that we haven't gone native, that you come to Washington thinking it's a cesspool, you don't want to end up thinking it's really a hot tub and getting used to it. So that's something one has to keep an eye on all the time.

BILL MOYERS: Is the conservative movement is going to be seen as the servant of the aristocracy?

GROVER NORQUIST: I think that the left has always made that accusation and I think that liberal Republicanism of the 1950s suffered from that. The great thing about President Reagan is that he changed the nature of the Republican party, is a party dedicated to limited government. It is not the pro-business party; it is the pro-freedom party. And for competent businesses, that's all they ask for. Incompetent businesses that want subsidies, they're not our friends, they're our opponents.

BILL MOYERS: What would you do about real life situations like this? This is a story out of New Jersey, the caseworker who closed a child abuse investigation and to a mother whose son was found dead in a locked basement here on Sunday had been working on more than 100 other investigations at the same time. That's more than six times the national standard recommended by national child advocacy groups. The New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services says its field agents juggle an average of 35 cases. Why shouldn't those of us who are well off be taxed a little more to try to make a system like this work for those who have nothing at all?

GROVER NORQUIST: Because I'm not interested in saving that system. I'm interested in saving and protecting the kids that that system is supposed to help.

BILL MOYERS: How would you do it?

GROVER NORQUIST: Well, I've been active with groups, the Institute for Children and some of the pro-adoption groups in Washington, D.C. The last numbers I saw, there are about 500,000 kids in foster care, about 50,000 kids free to adopt, and more than a million parents looking to adopt. And we have state rules and federal rules that are being liberalized, but that up until this point have made it difficult for kids to get adopted. And, the rules are...the Federal government gives subsidies to state governments, institutions like that, for every kid they keep in foster care, and they lose the subsidy if they get the kid adopted. That is the wrong kind of incentive to have. Nobody should have 100 kids they're chasing after...

BILL MOYERS: This is the real world, this is the only system these people have.

GROVER NORQUIST: We need to get them out of that system and into families where they're adopted. There are more people who want to adopt than there are kids that need to be adopted. And the government is in the way of having that happen.

BILL MOYERS: But in the meantime, can we hire more caseworkers, more people, to look after these children?

GROVER NORQUIST: As we're finding out, the government isn't looking after those children, and no government can look after children the way a family could, the way parents could. Let's get those kids into real families and adopted by real families who will take care of them.

BILL MOYERS: You're on record as saying, my goal is to cut government in half in 25 years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bath tub. Is that a true statement?

GROVER NORQUIST: No. The first part is an accurate statement of exactly what we're trying to do. We've set as a conservative movement a goal of reducing the size and cost of government in half in 25 years, which is taking it from a third of the economy down to about 17 percent, taking 20 million government employees and looking to privatize and get other opportunities so that you don't have all of the jobs that are presently done by government done by government employees. We need a Federal government that does what the government needs to do, and stops doing what the government ought not to be doing.

BILL MOYERS: Given all this, are you for the war against Iraq?

GROVER NORQUIST: I think given what's been going on in that neighborhood we are going to go in and remove Saddam Hussein and hopefully establish a free society in Iraq.

BILL MOYERS: When do you think that will happen?


BILL MOYERS: Next two weeks?

GROVER NORQUIST: Next two months.

BILL MOYERS: Next two months. After the State of the Union message?

GROVER NORQUIST: Oh, I hope we aren't quite calculating it that much, but I do think...

GROVER NORQUIST: Yes, yes. Sometime...February? I'm guessing. Nobody's told me the date here.

BILL MOYERS: You know what I'd like to ask you to come back from time to time and let's keep this discussion going and see what happens to the conservative movement.

GROVER NORQUIST: Okay. Well, we work at it every day, and we try and keep honest and we try and keep on line and we try not to get distracted by Washington.

BILL MOYERS: You were quoted yesterday of saying now that conservatives are in power it's the gentrification of Washington.

GROVER NORQUIST: I was teasing, but I was talking about the number of Republicans who are coming into Washington, which is helpful. But we're really winning when Republicans start leaving Washington because it becomes less important.

BILL MOYERS: Thank you very much, Grover Norquist.


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