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An almost ally

Q&A | Motivated by devotion to free-market principles, conservative activist Grover Norquist works with all communities of faith

Issue: "On the rails," Oct. 9, 2010

Grover Norquist, who celebrates his 54th birthday on Oct. 19, differs from many evangelicals in his views of Islam and homosexual groups, but agrees with most in supporting lower taxes and limited government. As founder and head for the past 25 years of Americans for Tax Reform, he is a prime example on economic issues of what Francis Schaeffer called a co-belligerent-not an ally, but one evangelicals can work with on those issues (and oppose on other issues).

Here's an edited version of our interview, which looked at Norquist's coming of age and emphasized commonalities without pretending that significant differences don't exist.

Q: What was it like growing up during the Cold War? Young people don't realize how much the Cold War shaped the thinking of those of us who are older. Some people in the United States wanted us to lose the struggle with the Soviet Union. The U.S. had an active Communist party that got cash secretly from the Soviet Union. There were spies and traitors.

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Q: You learned about this when you were 12. My public library was getting rid of all the old, un-useful books, meaning all the conservative ones, and selling them for a nickel or a dime. I went to one of those sales and picked up J. Edgar Hoover's Masters of Deceit and Herb Philbrick's I Led Three Lives. I was an anti-Communist first, and everything else afterward.

Q: You survived Harvard and then moved to Washington at the end of the era of "bipartisanship." From the 1940s through the 1970s everything was bipartisan, because the two political parties were not divided on ideological grounds.

Q: Some of that depended on voting patterns dating to the Civil War. You had little old ladies in Mississippi who agreed with Ronald Reagan on everything but voted for George McGovern because Sherman had been mean to Atlanta. You had people up in Maine who were Republicans even though they agreed with George McGovern and Ted Kennedy on everything, because the guy at Little Round Top was from Maine.

Q: Immigrant traditions also were important. The Irish immigrant who showed up in Boston-the guy who was mean to him was a Protestant Republican so he became a Democrat. The Italian showed up and the guy who was mean to him was the Irish Democrat so he became a Republican.

Q: During the Reagan era the parties separated . . . You saw it start with Goldwater. Reagan was the successful Goldwater. Now there are two teams: the Leave-Us-Alone Coalition and the Takings Coalition. The Leave-Us-Alone coalition is made up of people who are there because on the issue that moves their vote, they want to be left alone. It's not important to them that you like them. It's important to them that the government leaves them alone.

Q: And the Takings Coalition? The Takings Coalition is made up of trial lawyers, labor unions, and the two wings of the dependency movement-the people who are locked into welfare dependency and the people who make $90,000 a year managing the dependency of others and making sure they don't get jobs and become Republicans.

Q: Garnering votes through dependency? The old New Deal and Great Society programs no longer buy votes, because people who paid into Social Security and Medicare think they earned it, whereas guys getting government grants know perfectly well that they didn't earn that money. They're much more likely to go out and be precinct workers for you. So, the strategy: Cut all of those entitlements that people don't vote to reward you for, and instead hand out other cash. They want people to recognize their dependence and say, "Thank you, President, for giving me stuff, and I will remember to vote for you."

Q: Any others in the Takers Coalition? You've got all the coercive utopians, the radical environmentalists with lots of ideas about how the state should help you run your life for your personal edification. These are the people who invented cars too small to put your entire family into and toilets that don't flush completely.

Q: What's your strategy against the takers? Our job is to stop the flow of cash so that everybody around the left's table begins to look at each other a little more like the second-to-last scene in the lifeboat movies, because they're wondering who to eat or throw overboard. Our job is to reduce the amount of money available to hire Democratic precinct workers: Force them to gnaw on each others' ankles so that when we meet them in two or four years at the next election, there are fewer of them and they're shorter.


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