Grover’s Pigs

Between Grover Norquist and Joe Arpaio, Massachusetts has a lot to answer for! :-) - promoted by david

Today’s Globe Magazine  covers one man who has profoundly changed America.  The Bay State’s son, Grover Norquist, has convinced so many American leaders that no matter how much pollution poisons our air & water, no matter how many bridges are unsafe, no matter how many schools run out of money, no matter how many fires rage as firehouses are closed–taxes must not be raised.  Especially on the 1% who have so much.  I could write a post pointing out every ill effect of Norquist’s focus on his idea of never raising taxes, but Governor Deval Patrick already did.  And Patrick’s position rises not from his ideology but from the wisdom of experience in the real world.  The Governor has known what it is like to live with and without money.  He’s seen what life is like where government really is small–Darfur–and where government can actually provide services that make life better (Massachusetts), and he has a grown-up attitude toward taxes:  they are what we pay to live in civilization.

But the dominant idea in America these days belongs to Grover, who invented this no-tax pledge at age 12 and lobbied for it ever since.  Even in his elementary school years, Grover Norquist practiced persuasion and lobbying, but there’s only so much speechifying one’s classmates can take.  So…

[Grover] loved nothing better than to leave his home in the affluent west-of-Boston community of Weston and start walking, along the hilly block of handsome houses, through the woods dense with vines and thick with pines, and finally up a rocky ledge. There, the precocious boy who had so much to say would find a receptive audience… The ledge led to a cliff overlooking a pig farm, which sat just over the town line in Waltham. Grover learned that simply by standing on the cliff and speaking clearly and confidently, he would attract the notice of the pigs that were fenced in on a muddy, rooted-up plateau 30 feet below him. So he would give speeches of all types. As the words left his lips, 40 or so of the swine would give him their rapt attention. “They’d come listen to you,” he recalls. “I liked that.”

Now that’s a telling story about Grover.  He was happy that those pigs listened to him.  But the ultimate reality for pigs is that they get led up a ramp and cut into pieces for someone higher up the food chain.

If Americans keep listening to Grover, we will share the fate of those pigs.

Recommended by kbusch, jimc, jasiu.


34 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Trouble is

    The national Democratic Party has never fought for the counter-narrative.

    Yes, yes, yes, there are well-reasoned discussions on op ed pages and well-thought out books and essays, and well-sourced debate performances. What there isn’t is message discipline so that our message seeps into public consciousness like Norquist’s. What there isn’t is the use of modern marketing’s tools of persuasion to make the progressive view like a catchy tune that people hum without thinking.

    Well-crafted Republican slogans (“no new taxes”, “war on terrorism”, “drill, baby, drill”, etc.) have created an environment hostile to progressive ideas. Until the national Democratic Party starts campaigning as actively for issues as it does for candidates, good government will continue to lose to those catchy phrases.

    • Triangulation Uber Alles

      Since Clinton, our party’s elected officials, as a whole, seem to have little interest in good governence and protecting the 99% from predators.

      “We want what Grover wants, just a little less of it.” is the Third Way rallying cry.

    • Completely agree

      I was mentioning this very fact on another thread, but to me liberals, partly because they are more educated, pragmatic, and realistic about politics in the first place tend to set themselves up for defeat when it comes to winning political fights. It is our default mode to be rational, reasonable, and quick to pragmatic compromise. Since the end the Johnson administration we have lacked a leader who is both an ideological visionary that weaves a compelling, largely emotional narrative of governance and is also a tenacious fighter. We definitely had those leaders in FDR, Truman, and Johnson and to a lesser extent Kennedy and have longed for them ever since.

      On debate team they taught us to make three compelling policy arguments but the real points were won in the last minute or ‘crystallization round’ when we succinctly summated our position in sound bite form. Democrats and liberals suck at this. It is easy for Santorum to run on ‘faith, family, freedom’ and have everyone on both sides know in three easy to remember alliterative words exactly what kind of leader he would be and what he would stand for. We lack that kind of vision beyond vague promises of change. It is time we come up with progressive words that can be latchkeys for the change we want. To me fairness comes to mind as one of the easiest ones to latch on to.

      • "... a leader who is both an..."

        “…ideological visionary that weaves a compelling, largely emotional narrative of governance and is also a tenacious fighter.”

        In 92 I was hoping Cuomo would jump in for exactly these reasons. Check out his farewell speech to his staff when he left office.

        • Haven't seen it

          I have seen his 84 speech at the convention and to me his speech at Notre Dame was one of the finest articulations of the Christian Democratic tradition in American politics, Catholic social teaching in the mainstream. In short a big fan and likewise a fan of his son.

  2. Agree with your diagnosis, kbusch...

    …but do you have any suggestions, because I don’t? Sometimes I think it is the lot of progressives to not have good slogans, because frankly real governance can’t fit on a bumper sticker, nor should it.

    • it can be done

      It’s just that a sustained effort hasn’t been made. Kind of like that messy closet – you keep saying, “yeah, I need to clean it” but never get around to doing it. Yes, some like Lakoff have been pounding on this for years, but until that work infiltrates into the party itself, it will have no effect.

      Coincidentally, there is a related post on Daily Kos. Two of the phrase substitutions I like a lot:

      1) “Earned Benefits” instead of “Entitlements”. In fact, avoid all works rooted with “entitle”.

      2) “Fair wages for work” instead of “redistribution of wealth”.

      You aren’t going to fit a complete explanation into any of these, but the idea is to trigger something positive in the listener’s (hearer’s) mind at the beginning of the process instead of invoking the conservative frame surrounding the idea – and then having to spend so much time fighting that frame instead of expounding upon the progressive vision.

      • Embrace Orwell

        I think this is an excellent point, and it’s time for the left to get off it’s collective ass and come together. Much as it seems like the higher ground to refuse to think of “branding” when it comes to this stuff, just look at a few examples from the other side: global warming became “climate change”, the uber-rich are “job-creators”, etc. The right has been brilliant at rebranding these things to make them palatable or to achieve their goal. The armed forces discuss “collateral damage” instead of civilian casualties. The suggestions above are an excellent start, but we need a Frank Luntz on our side to educate every liberal member of Congress to stick to the message. “Job creators” indeed.

        • YES YES YES

          If we could still like posts I’d like that a thousand times over. Progressives are already good at this

          Sinister gay rights which needed a federal act to ‘defend’ marriage from became marriage equality which only a bigot would oppose.

          The Committee to Legalize Birth Control and Abortion, a scary group, became Planned Parenthood which contrasts nicely with unplanned parenthood. If corporations and the forces that enable them (Republicans) can use marketing so can we since elections are a marketplace of ideas after all and its important to sound right as well as be right.

        • No no no

          but we need a Frank Luntz on our side to educate every liberal member of Congress to stick to the message.

          The Right “rebrands” things because they wish, often, to enact their opposite, much like the ‘peoples republic of china’ which is neither a republic, nor of the people, or like the ‘union of soviet socialists republic’ which, likewise, was neither much socialist nor at all a republic… or, indeed, the canonical example (at the risk of invoking Godwins law…) of the National Socialist German Workers party, which was neither socialist nor had much of anything to do with workers.

          We don’t need a Frank Lunz because we are not attempting to fool anybody with misdirection, ledgerdemaine and/or propaganda. The right must do this because, as it is well known, that the truth, indeed, possesses a liberal bias.

      • count me out...

        You aren’t going to fit a complete explanation into any of these, but the idea is to trigger something positive in the listener’s (hearer’s) mind at the beginning of the process instead of invoking the conservative frame surrounding the idea – and then having to spend so much time fighting that frame instead of expounding upon the progressive vision.

        If you do this, you will soon find yourself neck deep in a swamp of ever changing concepts, relations and abstractions that will ultimately create a Romney doppleganger on the left. Romney is the uber-conservative: a man so throughoughly convinced of both his own morality and his ability to create a reality wholly at odds with any morality; this is not a tactic he employs but a fulfillment of Republican ideology dating back to the Nixonian era. His only ethos is to “trigger something positive in the listeners mind” so that they pull that lever for him. The first step, as Orwell points out, is to gut the language so that concepts are divorced from words. The latest step is Romney. The counter to Republican lies is not to create Democratic or Liberal lies, or even half-lies, but to point out the lies of the Repblicans.

        It is what it is. It ain’t anything else. The truth is the truth. If you have to shade it, elide it, mask it, gussy it up or dress it down, make it palatable, slice it, dice it, enhance it or re-contextualize it in order to prevail, then I don’t want you to prevail. If you want to counter the other guys lies with shadings of your own count me out. If you don’t trust people to be able to take it straight up I don’t want to be part of your revolution. And, really now, if you can’t prevail with the truth, then of what worth is prevailing?

        Now, if, instead of trying to do something amorphous like ‘trigger something positive”, you wish to point out the truth, wherever it lies and whatever the emotional consequences, then I am with you to the very end.

    • Wish I had better suggestions

      I like jasiu’s comments about changing the language we use, but that has minimal effect until the changed language shows up in major media and in the mouths of Senators and Presidents.

      I used to have a great deal of hope in MoveOn because, for example, they tested their ads and fought on the issues. They seem to want to be governed by plebiscite and (IMHO) have lost a lot of their way.

      How about pressuring the Democratic Party itself? Don’t know whether that would work. Perhaps large donors would drown out any concerted effort.

    • Your missing the point

      because frankly real governance can’t fit on a bumper sticker, nor should it

      I completely agree with this, but that is putting the cart before the horse. We have no surrendered so much to the right that it is frankly impossible to govern since the very idea of governing on a wide scale has been abandoned by both parties since easy to digest notions of ‘smaller government=better government’ have been spoon fed to the masses and enabled by weak and divided progressive forces. We do not need to over simplify our policies and appeal to the lowest common denominator, we must offer something more substantive than ‘better than the other guys’ and ‘change’.

      “Great Society’, “New Deal’, ‘New Frontier’, and ‘Fair Deal’ not to mention the ‘four freedoms’ are all simple and easy to remember slogans that encapsulated much broader policy goals. To me making fairness and community lynchpins for the wider progressive narrative would allow us to win more elections and govern more coherently. It then effects all legislation. A ‘fairness’ agenda leads easily to supporting universal healthcare justified on the grounds that its fairer to enable people to have high quality health care than letting business gouge them for it, fairer to let gays raise families than punish them for who they are, fairer to empower teachers to educate our kids than crush their unions, etc. It flows and connects seemingly different ideas into a cohesive narrative.

      The gay marriage and abortion rights movement understand this. Gay marriage foes made gay marriage to seem threatening hence “DEFENSE of Marriage Act”, we are defending something we all like from a sinister and foreign subculture alien to our values. Instead gay rights groups finally stopped calling it gay rights and called it ‘marriage equality’. They took the term marriage back and made it a basic human value that has to intuitively be equally available to all Americans. They took ‘gay rights’ out of the bathhouses and pride parades people were afraid of and instead emphasized how average American families were being disenfranchised from a birthright. The Committee for Legalized Birth Control and Abortion sounded threatening, who wants abortion after all? Planned Parenthood is a lot less threatening and makes a nice contrast with unplanned parenthood which sounds frightening.

      Language is important and liberalism is a brand name that has been tarnished for too long. We took one step and changed the name to ‘progressive’ which is a lot more vague and less threatening but its time to keep rehabilitating it and take back American phrases for our one. I liked Russ Finegold’s progressive patriots and someday hope liberals can run a ‘faith, family, freedom’ campaign and that we can take those terms back and use our own terms as well. But language is incredibly important, you govern in prose but you need the poetry to get in and to build a sustainable majority. I want progressives to win on the strength of their own ideas and not the weakness of their opposition.

      • You had me until the end there

        The term progressive is a liability. There is nothing wrong with the term liberal. We should focus on rehabing the term liberal just like they made conservative more respectable.

        Another problem is that, while we say we care about government and think it should be useful, we have really failed to deliver on that. Got lots of predator drones, but crumbling infrastructure. If we made government work, we’d be on more solid ground.

        • A liability?

          Unless something has changed, polling has shown the reverse: negative associations with “liberal”, positive reactions to “progressive”.

          These words are mostly just branding. No one claims that Gov. Dean is progressive because he shares a lineage with Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson that our liberal lion, the late Senator Kennedy, lacked.

          • What is a progressive?

            It doesn’t surprise me that the meaningless, define it any way you like term is more popular.

            But seriously, what is a progressive?

            • They are what they are

              I don’t know what you’re looking for.

              Let me describe how I think the branding works: A progressive is a cool politician. A liberal is a soft-hearted person who wants the government to do good.

              I think these words are best defined observationally.

              • Thanks for proving my point

                Better to embrace the term liberal, which everyone understands. Like I said upthread, it means the government has to deliver. Tough task.

                • Huh?

                  We see lots of polls wherein the public aligns with liberal views when asked about issues in a straight-forward manner. Yet, still there are more self-identified moderates than liberals and way more self-identified conservatives than self-identified moderates. People just don’t like saying they’re liberals. Even when they are! Sad but true.

                  The word progressive has been in use now for more than a few years. Dean, Obama, Franken, and others describe themselves that way. It’s meaning is clear enough. Why is it “better” to do something that is harder? Isn’t it “better” to win elections and improve public policy? Why’s it “better” to fight for a word no one likes?

                  Maybe you are you some kind of lexicographer. If so, I, of course, defer to your professional judgement.

                  • Not a word, an idea

                    Why cloak the idea you’re fighting for? Why use a watered down term for it? There are three possible reasons:

                    1. You want to water it down.
                    2. You want to make the same idea more acceptable by using a different name.
                    3. The idea has become so toxic that you have to change its name.

                    I’m uncomfortable with all three possibilities. Maybe there’s a fourth possibility that I haven’t thought of.

                    Again, some of the same happens on the right. I remember someone telling me that they weren’t “a neocon” — and I didn’t know why. But a few expensive wars later, I found out why.

                    • but

                      the polling indicates that people don’t know what “liberal” means any more than they know what “progressive” means. They just feel “liberal” is ickier. If they knew what these terms really meant and understood them, more people would say they were liberals.

                      Politics, alas, is not some reasoned political debate with well-defined positions and labels. It consists of competing marketing campaigns with moral consequences. Making arguments clearer hardly matters. People just don’t listen to arguments. If they did, yes, one would want to avoid watered down terms, but they don’t and Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. And austerity will bring back confidence. And drilling will lower gasoline prices.


                      IIRC, Ryan thinks the 2 words actually have different meanings and there is a reason to prefer “progressive” over “liberal” but I never found that convincing.

                    • OK just one question then

                      Do you want to fight for an idea, or do you want to fight for a marketing campaign?

                    • I don't live in that world

                      There is no such choice.

              • In fairness to us, though

                I’m not sure what “Tea Party” means. It’s essentially a rebranding of conservatism.

                Locally, I know what “Progressive Democrats” means. But “progressive” as a general label has no message, and therefore does not support the goal we are working toward.

                Put another way, when I hear progressive, I hear people running from the term liberal. It sounds like defeat to me.

                But I’ve been wrong before …

                • The word after liberal

                  Conservative media have been training us for years to think “elite” after the word liberal.

                  They’ve been pretty successful. “Progressive” has no such association.

        • Meh

          The term progressive is a liability. There is nothing wrong with the term liberal. We should focus on rehabing the term liberal just like they made conservative more respectable.

          I have no problem with either term: progressive, to me denotes transitive properties of positive direction and or action towards a worthy goal; while liberal is intransitive, glimpsing, being and experiencing the worthy ideal; as such the words and the concepts overlap and inform each other greatly as conjugates.

          I do agree, however, that many have run from the word ‘liberal.’ However, that’s no indictment of the word ‘progressive’. Let us use them both.

      • Progressive = "New Labor"

        Remember “New Labor,” Tony Blair’s attempt at rebranding? It worked for a while, but now hardcore Labor types believe the party has been watered down, and the Tories weren’t fooled for a minute.

        • Fair point

          My bigger point is that we do need to rebrand the party and our ideology to reflect values that appeal to the average voters hearts as well as their mind.

        • And Labor

          held the government for a long time after being out of power for Thatcher’s long premiership.

          I’m not sure whether or not I thought Blair better than the guys to his left, but they were certainly much better than the Tories.

  3. Norquist hurt state

    Grover Norquist has seriously damaged this state – and he did it on purpose.

    I read a white paper a few years back where Norquist described, as one of the benefits of Proposition 2.5-type laws, is that residents “sort themselves” into communities based on their acceptance of taxes. That tells me that he knew exactly what would happen when he pushed for Proposition 2.5 – residents sorted themselves, but not based on acceptance of taxes. They sorted themselves by income.

    Look at what has happened to this state in the past 30 years. Wealthy communities got wealthier – but their property taxes still went up. Poor communities got poorer – but their taxes are a lot less. What happened? Balkanization of taxes and services – in many ways, along racial lines.

    Why did this happen? Because the law makes it happen. It’s a feedback loop. Whereas in the 70′s, you might housing that ran the gamut in any community, when Proposition 2.5 went in, that was a signal for most communities to only allow high-end housing – because that maximizes the property tax revenue.

    The same law put poorer communities into a downward spiral, by forcing them to offer fewer public services than their wealthy counterparts, thus pushing wealthier people into wealthier communities to get the same level of service.

    If you wanted a law that had the same effect as redlining and racial segregation without explicitly codifying that, I don’t think you could come up with a better one.

    Our real estate market is completely skewed because of this law. Housing is too high for younger people in the communities they want to live in, and the services are too bad in the communities they can afford. That means they move out of state.

    It also means that Massachusetts employers are paying their employees more money than they need to, simply to allow them to live in $400k houses that would cost $150k in other parts of the country. That’s not good.

    • Our schools have suffered

      Thank God Massachusetts is still governed by the Mayflower compact and old parishes are forced to keep the poor and rich parts in one school districts. In Illinois its quite easy to build school districts that lump the rich in one town with the rich in an adjacent town and leave the poor behind. My girlfriends sister goes to high school in snooty West Aurora on the border with even snootier Naperville and the two have a combined school district. But the hispanic and working white East Aurora is lumped in with poorer communities to form an ‘Aurora township’ that has much poorer schools. Funding schools via property taxes is the worst form of institutionalized racism and classism we have in this country.

      • School districts

        I’m not sure which Massachusetts you remember, but most communities in Massachusetts are not as you describe; we don’t have rich and poor in the same community anymore. Proposition 2.5 has ensured this – it gave communities the signal that “housing below $400k is a money-loser” for the community, and so very little affordable housing is built except in poor communities (or unless it is done via Chapter 40B).

        We have moved the lines of segregated neighborhoods outward so that entire communities are now as these neighborhoods once were – and there is not even a pretense anymore that funding be equal for all students. One only has to look at foundation budgets, compare rich vs poor communities and realize that rich communities are spending well above the required amount, and are in many cases outspending poor communities. Then realize that it takes a lot more effort to educate a child with no parental support (concentrated in poor communities) and you’ll see how we’re probably spending 3x the amount needed in wealthy communities versus poor communities.

        • Still on your side

          I want that Massachusetts whether it was in my dreams or a reality to be the reality and we need to stop funding schools through property taxes if we truly want to end segregation and close the achievement gap.

  4. Grover is only a symptom of the problem.

    Grover Norquist is a bully and, as the Globe piece so ably demonstrates, the son of a bully: he’s a second generation intellectual thug; he’s also a simpleton; As the piece also demonstrates, he’s never had much in the way of a second thought, nor ever questioned, seriously questioned, himself, only his tactics and delivery. He’s no different, in this respect, than both George Bushes, Karl Rove, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich: bullies and simpletons all. The problem is that some, not inconsequential, component of the electorate likes to vote for bullies and simpletons.

    the dominant idea in America these days belongs to Grover,

    I don’t think that Grover Norquists loopy tax schema is the ‘dominant idea’ in America these days. I think the dominant idea in America these days is, interestingly enough, moderation… but not by all that much. I think, among the ideas that animate the body politic, it is a close-run three way race between 1) moderation of the type practiced by Obama, 2) a deeply ingrained intellectual bullying (that derives directly from slavery and the Jim Crow south whatever Norquists’ origin), and 3) a nostalgic wisp of hope that government can be made so simple even Ron Paul can understand it, like as simple as it was when it was on the gold standard (even though it never was that simple)

    The success of Norquists’ totem relies on his ability to straddle the bullies and the simpletons: a tax pledge is a cudgel useful for bullying as well as a prized shorthand exempting people from serious intellectual work. It’s also without a direct response: what is the other side ging to do, have a pledge to raise taxes? Have a rallying cry of ‘duh’?

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Tue 28 Mar 6:04 AM