The Republican Party, also known as the GOP, came into existence in 1852 for the very best of reasons: to attack slavery. It ceased to exist sometime between 1990 and 2000, when it was hijacked and held hostage. The cause of death was that well known malady, hardening of the categories. In the words of the poet, T. S. Eliot, it died, "not with a bang but with a whimper."
The hijacking was engineered by a political operative named Grover Norquist, who, in 1986, promoted The Taxpayer Protection Pledge, consisting of the promise to "oppose and vote against any and all efforts to raise taxes." GOP members then lined up and signed it, thus contributing to the disappearance of the GOP and to the appearance in its place of a new political party, the GNP (Grover Norquist Party).
Grover Norquist runs a lobbying organization in Washington, Americans for Tax Reform, with what seems to a single purpose to oppose taxes. Clearly, he is after bigger game. He was once quoted as saying what he wanted was to shrink government down to a size where it could be "drowned in a bathtub." Journalist Will Greider quotes Norquist as saying "my goal is to bring America back to where it was up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over." In a recent appearance on a New York Times web-cast, Norquist conceded that the government needed some funding, enough for "a military strong enough to keep the Canadians on their side of the border."
Is he joking? It may not matter. Steve Croft, of CBS "60 Minutes," in an interview with Norquist said "[He] has been responsible, more than anyone else, for rewriting the dogma of the Republican Party."
While in the past, the Pledge may have served the GOP, the real question is has it been good for the country? The answer is clearly no. For example, during the Bush Administration we sent our soldiers off to fight two wars and, for the first time in history, the government, under the direction of the GOP, refused to raise taxes to pay for them. As a result, the deficit zoomed upward.
Dealing with the tension between what we want from government and paying for it leads us back to the question, "What is the purpose of government?" In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that "governments are instituted among Men" to insure that people secure their unalienable rights of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." We depend upon our government to help us secure these God-given rights. We elect our representatives and send them to Washington fully expecting that they will use any and all methods and tools to insure that these rights are secured for all of us. When they pledge not to use one of these tools, they are derelict in their duties. They are like a cook without a stove or a plumber without a wrench.
Equally serious, in signing the Pledge, they led GOP into committing the most serious error that any organization can make: losing the flexibility to adapt to the changing times.
Following the 2012 election, Peggy Noonan, conservative columnist for The Wall Street Journal wrote " A big rethink is in order. The GOP has been given four years to do it." May I respectfully suggest that the most important item for this "rethink" is getting rid of the Pledge, thus getting rid of the GNP. In order to tackle successfully the tough problems that lie ahead, our elected representatives need all of the tools available to them.
GNP/RIP. Viva GOP!
Joseph C. Bentley, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of management and organizational behavior at the University of Utah.