Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lash Yourself To the Mast - Political Promise Keepers

One sure way to end up in some place you didn’t intend to go to is to chain yourself to the mast. Once you’ve set the rudder, lock it in position – you know your calculations are right – and chain yourself to the mast so you will never be tempted to change course regardless of the amount of evidence presented to show that you are not on course to your desired destination.

We’ve all seen this scenario played out at one time or another. A father destroys his family by bull-headedly insisting on a course of action that bankrupts them. Parents who will refuse life-saving medical treatment and watch a child die because they are convinced that their faith is sufficient to save the child in the end. A businessman is so certain of the rightness of his business plan that he will not change anything even as he watches the enterprise go up in smoke. The prophet knows that he has heard from God and leads his flock of true believers to a hilltop to await the fulfillment of his prophecy, made in ignorance (or defiance) of the very source he claims as his authority.

And now, we are very close to running the affairs of our nation – we are actually attempting to run the affairs of many of our states, Wisconsin included – with the leaders lashed to the mast.

Just before the 2012 elections 95% of all Republican members of Congress, and all but one of the Republican candidates for President had signed Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”. The pledged committed those who signed it to never vote for a tax increase of any kind. So the Republican Party had essentially lashed itself to the masthead saying, “It matters not what the facts may show at some point in the future, regarding the wisdom or the need for a tax increase, I will watch the ship go down before I will vote for one.”

Who is Grover Norquist, you ask? It is enough to say that he has never held an elective office, nor even an appointed office. But he has always been close to the centers of Conservative power in Washington and now wields tremendous power and influence over governmental policy by virtue of all the Republican leaders he has lashed to his Anti-tax Pledge. If any dare to disentangle themselves and disavow his policies they will be targeted for defeat in their next election and Norquist can pull the strings to be sure that happens, directing massive amounts of money to be spent in negative advertising  portraying the renegade official as a traitor to the cause of ever lower taxes.

And now we hear that the Koch Brothers have learned to play the game. In recent articles the Wisconsin Capital Times and The New Yorker described a No Climate Tax Pledge sponsored by the Koch Brother’s Americans for Prosperity Political Action Committee. The 411 signers of the pledge are lashing themselves to the Koch Brother’s mast, agreeing that they will never support any climate protection legislation, the cost of which is not offset by tax cuts elsewhere in the budget, effectively saying that they will never vote for any climate protection legislation.

Governor Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, along with Senator Ron Johnson, and three members of the Wisconsin House of Representative delegation, four members of the Wisconsin Senate and four members of the Wisconsin Assembly, have signed the pledge. All are Republicans. The entire leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives (all Republicans) and one fourth of the Republican members of the U.S. Senate are signers of the pledge.

Again we have to ask, “Who are the Koch brothers?” They are billionaire businessmen, head of the world’s second largest corporation by some estimates. But neither of them has ever held a public office or stood for election to one. Still they command enough loyalty that our political leaders – the Republican ones, at least – will lash themselves to the mast at their command, saying in essence, “It doesn’t matter what evidence is presented now or in the future that might make it wise to enact protections for the environment, even if it resulted in a tax increase. I will not change my mind. I’ve signed the pledge. My hands are tied.”

There are those who would like us to believe that we live in a democracy in which those elected to serve the nation make their decisions based on the will of those who elected them. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, we do hold elections. We get to choose those who will go to Washington, D.C., or Madison, WI and sit in the halls of the legislature or the White House or the Governor’s mansion.

But a significant number of those elected have pledged, even before they are elected, to represent, not the will of those who sent them, but the narrow agenda of Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers.

We can legitimately debate the best course for our nation regarding taxation, which is what Norquist and the Koch brothers are interested in keeping low, but we are a nation of fools if we allow three men to determine that course for us without the consent of the majority of the nation’s citizens.

And we are fools, times seven, if we continue to elect those who, even before they take office have lashed themselves to any preconceived notion of what the future will require of them.

Governor Walker and the Republican members of the Wisconsin Legislature who have signed both pledges are not OUR representatives. They have made a compact with the devil; they have sold their soul to those who can bring in, or contribute, the millions of dollars that will allow them to defeat anyone who opposes them.

They are Promise Keepers but the promises they are keeping are not the ones they made to those who elected them.

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