In the early 1950s, as a student at the University of Minnesota, and with the Korean War in full bloom, I joined the Air Force ROTC program. In 1954, I graduated and was commissioned as an officer; and as such was required to take this pledge:
I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
Similarly, all members of Congress, the judiciary and the President take a slightly different, but equally commanding oath, when they come into office – a tradition that traces back to the First Congress in 1789. All such oaths are based on supporting, obeying, preserving and defending the tenets found in our Constitution.
Among these are Articles relating to protecting America’s general welfare and those calling out taxation. Section 8 of Article I states:
“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States…”
In 1812, the high cost of the War of 1812 brought about the nation’s first sales taxes.
To raise revenue to fund the Civil War, Congress introduced the income tax through the Revenue Act of 1861.
In 1913, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution made corporate and personal income taxes legal
And as recently as the 1940s, Congress raised the top tax rate to 94 percent to pay for World War II.
The point is, throughout history responsible leaders and legislators have done what is needed to keep America strong and fiscally healthy in accordance with their oath of office – including taxation. These were leaders who were performing on their sworn oath to protect our nation and its general welfare and to gainfully utilize all the powers given them in our Constitution, as needed.
Now along comes Grover Norquist and his pledge to require members of Congress and state legislators abrogate their oath to this great document and proclaim allegiance to his doctrine. And what would his self proclaimed “pledge” be?
I ,____________, pledge to the taxpayers of the _____ district of the State of _________ and to the American People that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
I find this inconsistent in spirit, if not in fact, with each legislator’s sworn pledge to protect our nation and “support and defend the Constitution.” It is absolutely antithetical to that promise. In a sense it supersedes the very first power offered in the Constitution: Article I Section 1:
“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”
I do not see Grover Norquist’s name mentioned here.
(As a side note, 27 Minnesota representative and senators have signed, including House Speaker Kurt Zellers.)
David Brooks, in a recent and brilliant op-ed in the New York Times, stated it succinctly. “The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.
“…to members of this movement, tax levels are everything. Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation.
“The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.”
The Norquist pledge is clearly in conflict with the oath to preserve and protect the nation, and the general welfare of the United States; and it egregiously flouts the legislative powers given in the Constitution. Is it a legal failure? Doubtful. An ethical failure? Probably. But a failure of an oath of responsible governance? Absolutely!
We live in a period of political hypocrisy and to some extent ignorance of historical facts. That is the irony of those zealots who proclaim undying allegiance to the Constitution, choose instead to flout it. Note again the words in their oath of office: “I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same (Constitution).” So the decision then rests on whose “allegiance” and pledge will prevail: that of the Constitution, or that of Grover Norquist?
Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.