You've probably been following the "Is Grover over?" controversy. Republicans have been backing away from Grover Norquist's "no taxes" pledge
, signalling a new era in which Mr. N no longer controls the American agenda.
To counter this trend, Norquist got on teevee yesterday and reminded everyone that "Poppy" Bush lost the 1992 election because he broke his "Read my lips: No new taxes" pledge.
But is that the real
reason why Bush lost? Or has Norquist simply repeated a beloved political fairy tale?
It behooves us all to recall that the man who won in 1992, Bill Clinton, made an explicit promise to raise taxes -- on the affluent. And he did just that. And the country got out of the red.
Interestingly, President George H.W. Bush was forced to break his word and raise taxes in 1990 because he faced a "fiscal cliff" of his own, in the form of a balanced budget co-sponsored by Phil Gramm. As you may recall, Gramm is the same fellow who deep-sixed Glass-Steagall, thereby unleashing the financial demons of 2008. Few politicians have done as much harm to the U.S. as ol' Phil did.
It should be noted that the other fellow running in 1992, Ross Perot, made balancing the budget the centerpiece of his campaign. Thus, he too advocated raising taxes on the wealthy, and
Clearly, the low-tax candidate in that three-way race was George H.W. Bush. He apologized repeatedly for breaking his vow. He went around the country assuring audiences that he would never do so again.
Yet Clinton won. The public knowingly chose the guy who said "Read my lips: New taxes!" Then as now, the American public proved itself both elastic and educable. People understand that you can't fight a deficit without increasing revenues.
Taxes, in short, are not the reason why Bush lost. By 1994, however, the Republicans had rewritten the national memory of the contest that had taken place just two years earlier -- and in this revised standard version of recent events, raising taxes was the factor that cost Poppy the election.
Now Grover Norquist hopes that, once again, fairy tale history will triumph over actual