Calhoun’s Can(n)on for March 12, 2010
The image just won’t get out of my head. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, the guy who famously wanted to starve government to a size that could easily be drowned in a bath tub. Grover Norquist on vacation in Arizona driving down the highway in a convertible drinking his Big Gulp on account of it’s a very hot spring day. And it’s his second Big Gulp and Grover’s in the middle of nowhere and now he’s got a very, very pressing need to pee from that second Big Gulp and up ahead he sees a highway rest stop. It’s a state Department of Transportation rest stop, run by the hated “government,” the one that Grover wants drowned in the bathtub, built and maintained by taxes, which are evil and must be abolished in order to starve the government so it can be drowned.
Grover heaves a huge sigh and pulls off the highway and holding his hand over his now painful bladder, runs to the restroom. But there’s a problem. Arizona has turned into Grover Norquist’s dream come true. Its citizens, who, like Grover, hate taxes, refuse to raise taxes to continue their state services. Arizona is broke and in financial free fall. In short, Arizona is drowning in Grover’s bathtub and to save money, it’s closed its highway rest stops.
No public toilets and Grover has to pee.
Arizona isn’t alone. California is also in the process of turning into Norquistland. In a recent budget brawl, Republicans had a choice between raising a few targeted taxes or letting the State fall off a financial cliff. Republican pols who had taken a blood oath to Grover, voted no – in a choice between Grover and the people of the state, they chose Grover. All except Assemblyman Abel Maldonado, who likely felt he owed at least some allegiance to the people of the state. For which betrayal, he was later stripped of his appointments and banished into the outer darkness as a traitor to Grover.
Meanwhile, to save money in a rapidly devolving Norquistland, California is cutting prisoners loose on early release, which is ironic since Law & Order conservatives spearheaded the movement to build more prisons and jail more people for longer and longer times (No mollycoddling with “liberal” diversion programs or education/training programs!) until it dawned on them that all these new prisons had to be paid for by taxes. And when it’s a choice between more taxes and letting prisoners out on the street, suddenly the street becomes the new Law & Order crowd’s solution.
Meanwhile, school bond after school bond went down in defeat so, like wicked government, our schools started to drown in the same bathtub. Suddenly, when tuition costs started rising, and teachers started getting laid off, there were angry parents who had voted down all those bond issues, out in the street carrying protest signs and yelling about the future. But in Norquistland, there IS no future. To have a future, you have to wisely invest public tax dollars into building and maintaining a valuable public Commons; decent schools, roads, widespread health care, a safety net, parks and even public restrooms.
And so it goes. State by state and a lousy economy compounded by years of a mind set carefully fed by Grover and his ilk: We don’t need government regulation. The market will take care of all problems. Tax breaks for the wealthy will trickle down. Get rid of “the government” and you will be “free.” You can have all the services you want without raising the taxes needed to pay for it all.
The collective results of such thinking are now being played out across the country. And citizens are finally waking up and looking around at the Norquistland they have created and apparently they don’t like what they see – Where’s my kid’s teacher? You’re cutting a criminal loose with no support programs, no job, no resources? Tuition for my kid’s doubling? Why’s my local park closing? What do you mean, if I want those things, I’ll have to pay for them with taxes? What??
And so that image won’t leave my mind: Grover, driving, and it’s hot and his bladder hurts and he’s desperately looking for a public restroom because he really, really has to pee. But he’s in Arizona. And no matter how fast he drives, he’ll be in Arizona for hours and hours and hours.