Saturday, September 10, 2011

Norquist's "Leave Us Alone"

Norquist is well into his third decade as a big wheel in GOP and conservative circles. I got to hear him speak in Indy about a month ago, where he distributed copies of his latest book.

The subtitle of the book is "Getting the Govt's hands off our money, our guns, our lives"-- which sounds quite libertarian, if not Libertarian. In fact, Norquist argues that Americans tend to be libertarian at least with respect to their own lives and often, on many issues. The trick then, from a Libertarian perspective, is to encourage people to think more coherently about the role of government-- a.) putting aside their special interests in some cases; and b.) sacking their little-considered beliefs about the supposed efficacy of govt (in areas where those beliefs are ultimately shaky or even unfounded).

The book is a combination of demographic predictions, historical descriptions, and policy wonkish discussions. He's trying to figure out where there are trends and explain/forecast from there. He identifies the two sides as the "Leave us alone" and "Takings" coalitions. He notes that Dems tend to be in the latter and GOP'ers tend to be in the former, but some people are hybrids and the GOP, in particular, faces a temptation to cross over to the Takings side.

Norquist uses humor effectively, making it more interesting to read. For example, in the preface, he opens by saying his book is not entitled "The other team sucks", before noting that "Others have done fine work here". He also notes that his book is not utopian: "I discovered that the world was not organized around what I wanted done. I was very disappointed. But unlike some, I was ten years old when this truth became painfully clear."

Norquist is generally optimistic about the GOP's political chances/opportunities. He notes that no Democrat had received 51% of the popular vote since Johnson in 1964. (Since the book was published, Obama got 53% in probably the best of circumstances for a Dem.) 

Although I think he's generally correct, he understates the importance of abortion to one important subgroup in the GOP (p. 31-32). (In fact, I and others have written about why the pro-life position was-- and could be again-- a Democratic issue.) And he overstates the extent to which police and fire will vote GOP, given the union angle. (Police and fire are the most potent special interest groups at the local level.)

His chapters on trends are interesting-- the extent to which a growing investor class, shrinking labor unions, age demographics (including the exit of FDR Democrats), fewer hunters, more people on welfare, homeschooling, voter fraud, ethnic groups demographics and media competition/access. Whether he's correct or not on the particulars-- and it seemed like strong analysis to me-- he has correctly identified potential trends, whether positive or negative for conservative political outcomes. 

Some small nuggets:

-Goldwater and many GOP'ers opposed the supply-side tax cuts of JFK, apparently believing the then-dominant Keynesian view that such cuts would be inflationary. Wow!

-Norquist notes that many states have flat taxes and the SS tax is a flat tax as well. Why would someone be aggressively opposed to the same for the "income" tax?

-Federal spending under Clinton fell from 22.8% to 19% of GDP. Under Bush into 2006, it rose to 20.3%. Since then, under Bush and Obama, it's been 23-25%.


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