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.
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.
Q: How do you get some tall Republican precinct workers? Around the Republican table, we want more people to be invested in the broader market so that they will understand all taxes on businesses and individuals are bad for you. The Republicans want to make more Republicans; Democrats want to make people more dependent on state power and resources.
Q: The Takings party seems to be the party of macro-avarice. Is there such a thing as micro-avarice? The left likes to argue that if you earned a dollar and you want to keep it, you're greedy. My idea is that if you earned a dollar and Fred wants to steal it, Fred's greedy. The left position literally is, if you're against higher taxes on you, you're greedy. There's a big distinction there. The left always calls the right greedy and selfish.
What are the three things most likely to make you more Republican? Getting married, having kids, and being a person of faith. What are the three things that deal with self-sacrifice? The decision to commit yourself to somebody else, raise kids, and that you're not in charge, God is. That really blows a hole in the argument that the less selfish you are the more Democratic you are.
Q: What happened to the Republican revolution of 1994 to the point where 12 years later voters were saying, "Let's throw those bums out, they're as corrupt as the previous set of bums"? Some Republican leaders believed the clever way to get Republicans reelected was to have them do earmarks. If you're raising money in D.C. from special interest groups who just want earmarks, you're not raising your money from citizens in your district who just want good government. This made everything too D.C.-centric.
Q: You came to conservatism through Cold War concerns about the Soviet Union. In our new cold/hot war against Islamists, some conservatives-noting your marriage to a Muslim and your work with some Muslim groups-are attacking you. I've done outreach to all the religious communities in the United States, and you get flack for it. I do a lot of work with the Orthodox Jewish community, which is increasingly Republican. . . . We set up a group, the Islamic Free Market Institute, because there wasn't anyone doing outreach in the Muslim community. As a conservative and as a Republican, I advocate working with all communities of faith.
Q: You also work with GOProud, a pro-gay organization of fiscal conservatives. I am on their board of advisors. I advise them on politics. I am not on their board of directors. GOProud is a conservative group that endorsed and ran ads for [GOP Senate candidate] Carly Fiorina against former Congressman Tom Campbell. Carly supports traditional marriage and Tom Campbell supports gay marriage, but Carly signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge and Tom did not. GOProud supports candidates who fight for less spending and lower taxes.