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The Norquist pledge is inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution

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.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/18/2011 - 11:07 am.

    Did any of these legislators consider whether this pledge could possibly backfire on them in future?

    Brooks chose the right words when he described this whole movement as a “sacred fixation”. It is reminiscent of Nazi fanaticism. Grover Norquist rules this outfit with fear. No one dares challenge him.

    Let’s not forget that there are longer cycles of political favor in the U.S.. Before “liberal” was turned into a smear word (by a very successful propaganda campaign – even now, no one seems willing to confess to being a liberal), liberal politics was quite popular. Before that, conservatives had their way. And before that…and so on to today.

    The conservatives of today act as though they have no experience of power & no expectation of retaining it.

    They don’t know how to cultivate political power for the long run, retain it, build wide support for it, use its best parts as a lure to those in the middle. They don’t plant perennials – only annuals.

    They use power in a spirit of desperation, as if their enjoyment of it is certain to be short-lived, as if their bucket’s got a hole in it.

    Or perhaps they are simply illustrating the dictum that the oppressed become the oppressors. Of course, they have never actually been the oppressed – it is all in their heads as they get on board with the charismatic ravers of their movement – Michelle Bachmann, Grover Norquist, Sarah Palin, etc.

    I think they are right – their time is short, they’d best be desperate.

  2. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 07/18/2011 - 01:45 pm.

    Myles, so tax and spend is the only way to “protect and defend the constitution?”


    “The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency.” The government has spent our money, our children’s money, and in the process of spending our grandchildren’s money, but we still need to give them more money? That is decent?

    Giving more of our money to Obama, so can give it to the special interest groups that give him the money -is responsible?

    Myles, it seems you have been infected with “special interest politics as usual.”

  3. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 07/18/2011 - 02:39 pm.

    Ron, you seem to forget which “special interests” fostered most of the debt which is creating this crisis: the Bush administration and the republican Congress which managed to squander a surplus under Clinton by taking us into two unnecessary wars, and by submitting to blackmail by Wall Street in the closing days of 2008. The whole “no taxes” pledge means “no taxes” on those who’ve reaped the benefits of low taxes and lax government regulation.

    Myles article speaks only to the U.S. Constitution. The Minnesota Constitution, Article X, sec. 1 provides that the “power of taxation shall never be suspended, surrendered or contracted away.” I wonder if these pledges by Minnesota lawmakers amount to “malfeasance” or “nonfeasance” warranting a recall election?

  4. Submitted by myles spicer on 07/19/2011 - 08:37 am.

    I have no compunction on HOW legislators vote their conscience. My arrticle, (and my complaint) is that by signing a pledge that is outside their governing responsibilities they give up some part of their freedom on action, and are abrogating some of their governing power to a force beyond their legislative duties.

    This has nothing to do with “tax and spend” — it has to do with ethical and effective governance.

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