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Two or three ways of dividing Americans

“As rigid as a fireplace poker but without the occasional warmth.”

I guess you could say there are two ways of dividing Washington. One is the party of tax versus don’t tax. The other is the party of compromise versus don’t compromise. And perhaps a third way, along the lines of metaphorical gifts.

Grover Norquist of Citizens for Tax Reform and former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson are both Republicans who have argued for years that the government needs to spend less in order to tame the deficit. But when Democrats offer to accept some cuts if the Republicans will agree to some tax increases, Norquist is a leader of the “don’t-compromise” party and Simpson is a leading advocate of compromise in order to get something done. Norquist is famous as the originator of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge that his organization circulates asking Republican candidate to swear that they will never vote for a net tax increase. Simpson is currently famous as the Simpson from Simpson-Bowles, a bipartisan deficit hawk panel that proposed a grand compromise including both spending cuts and taxes.

Because of their differences over the compromise/don’t compromise divide, the two have often criticized each other publicly. Time Magazine’s Michael Scherer thought it would be cool to get the two men to walk around the National Zoo together and record their conversation. The full transcript is here.

Here’s a snippet of Simpson making the case for compromise in general.

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“If you can’t learn to compromise on an issue without compromising yourself, you sure as hell should never be in the legislative body. Every document of this country was a compromise. Go home and bitch and raise hell around the city council or something. Go haunt someone else. But you should never come to Congress. And you should never get married.”

Simpson is also famous for colorful metaphors laced with humor, like the don’t-get-married crack at the end of the comment above. I have interviewed Simpson occasionally over the years and have been slack-jawed at how many humorous metaphor the man can inject to any ordinary conversation. Norquist, a product of the Boston suburbs who lacks Simpson’s gift for humor, likewise reached that point at which he couldn’t help but comment on Simpson’s gift. He also offered a theory that it has something to do with a third divide, which he thinks is a cultural/linquistic Wyoming/Boston divide, as in this exchange that Scherer recorded:

SIMPSON: To me, it’s always the rule of compromise. But to have people say I just don’t compromise on anything, those people are about as rigid as a fireplace poker but without the occasional warmth.

NORQUIST: Is this a Western thing? Because I once spent a day with a guy from Alabama and we drove around and we did all these little radio shows on tax stuff. And went from one to another. And he must have had a hundred sayings along those lines and he never repeated himself. I kept waiting to see whether he was on a continuous loop of some kind. I didn’t know whether he was making them up or had a book of a thousand of them or just picked them up over time. It was just — people in Boston don’t talk like that.

SIMPSON: And they don’t work in a hayfield with guys who are called irrigators either.