WASHINGTON -- The other day, I was beholding Fox News' beauteous Martha MacCallum on her TV salon, "The Live Desk," when a smudge darkened my otherwise sunny afternoon.
Linda Chavez, that perennial conservative talking head, was being interviewed about American politics, when, all of a sudden, she did something quite jarring. She referred to conservative activist Grover Norquist in chill terms, suggesting that this grover norquist is an obscure figure somewhere out on the margins of politics. Her condescension further suggested that Chavez does not approve of this fellow, norquist. Frankly, I was embarrassed for her. Does Chavez not realize that GROVER NORQUIST is a major player in American politics and one of the giants of contemporary American conservatism? My guess is that the beauteous Martha knows as much. So do the politically knowledgeable members of "The Live Desk's" audience.
Whatever is this conservative talking head's problem? It appears she is another of those ambitious conservatives who suffer an anthropological condition known by those who study marginalized or emerging Third World communities as "crab antics." The term is used in certain Caribbean societies where high achievers are always in danger of being pulled back by their less successful neighbors. They suffer the trials of the lead crab attempting to escape from a bucket of crabs that is tipping over. There are still many conservatives who attempt to pull back high-achieving conservatives in the hope that this will win them favor with liberals. Thus, we see the likes of Chavez attempting to diminish the likes of Norquist.
Yet Norquist's achievements cannot be diminished easily. His Americans for Tax Reform has helped to make tax cutting a major element in modern American politics, and tax cutting has engendered nearly three decades of pretty steady economic growth. Since the middle of the 19th century, the longest period of economic expansion had been 57 months. Then came Ronald Reagan with an expansion of 92 months, then Bill Clinton with 102 months, and now George W. Bush with an expansion in the mid-70s somewhere. Norquist's "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," with which he besieges candidates and elected officials, has kept tax cutting a winning issue for Republicans.
Now two former Bush speechwriters, David Frum and Michael Gerson, have come along and prescribed Big Government for what supposedly ails modern American conservatism. Norquist has a better idea, namely keeping the conservative movement -- the dominant political force since the Reagan administration -- true to its principles, foremost of which is limited government. He knows that Big Government is an inefficient tool for reform and a threat to personal liberty. What is more, Big Government still is viewed with suspicion by a majority of Americans.
In a terrific new book, Norquist explains how conservatism can remain dominant. He identifies the voting blocs that have made conservatism a powerful and salutary force in modern politics: anti-tax activists, gun-rights defenders, home-schoolers, religious conservatives, and members of the investor class. He calls them members of the Leave Us Alone Coalition and names his book "Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government's Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives." Contrary to Frum and Gerson, who believe Americans have tired of opposing limited government, Norquist cites trends that suggest this coalition has a long life ahead.
He notes that the investor class is growing, as is the number of conservative people of faith. Red states are becoming more populous, while blue states are losing population. The home-schooling movement is growing, and thanks to conservative organizers on campus, ever-larger numbers of well-trained conservative activists are graduating from college and continuing their political activism after graduation. He thinks the conservative young are more effective than their liberal peers. He believes public policies in our growing economy are expanding the size of the investor class, one policy being the growing number of individual retirement accounts. Finally, Norquist believes that the liberals, who he says compose the Takings Coalition, have few policies that are attractive to the American majority or capable of solving the problems they supposedly address.
To those who think the conservative moment has passed, may I introduce Grover Norquist?