In October, 2003, Terry Gross, host of the remarkable NPR program, Fresh Air interviewed Grover Norquist (listen to the Norquist interview here), the head of Americans for Tax Reform and the reputed architect of President Bush’s tax cuts. It must’ve been an extraordinary interview (though I didn’t hear it) because Grover got himself into quite a lot of hot water by equating the estate tax’s “extreme prejudice” against the rich with the Holocaust. Yep, that’s right, you heard me right. I’ve taken on several public figures in this blog for their abuse of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism for tendentious purposes, but this is one of the doozies.
Apparently, the interview faded into the ether until Harper’s Magazine featured a story about it which Richard Cohen, the Washington Post’s distinguished columnist read. He then wrote his own piece about it, Out of Their Anti-Tax Minds, which I will refer to here later.
Here’s how Russell Mokhiber, editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter and Robert Weissman, editor of the Multinational Monitor characterized the interchange (the quotations are verbatim quotations from the program transcript) in Terry Gross, Grover Norquist and the Holocaust:
Grover Norquist: Yeah, the good news about the move to abolish the death tax, the tax where they come and look at how much gold is in your teeth [first veiled Holocuast reference] and they want half of it, is that — you’re right, there’s an exemption for — I don’t know — maybe a million dollars now, and it’s scheduled to go up a little bit. The argument that some who played at the politics of hate and envy and class division will say, ‘Yes, well, that’s only 2 percent,’ or as people get richer 5 percent in the near future of Americans likely to have to pay that tax.
I mean, that’s the morality of the Holocaust. ‘Well, it’s only a small percentage,’ you know. ‘I mean, it’s not you, it’s somebody else.’
And this country, people who may not make earning a lot of money the centerpiece of their lives, they may have other things to focus on, they just say it’s not just. If you’ve paid taxes on your income once, the government should leave you alone. Shouldn’t come back and try and tax you again.
Terry Gross: Excuse me. Excuse me one second. Did you just compare the estate tax with the Holocaust?
Grover Norquist: No, the morality that says it’s OK to do something to a group because they’re a small percentage of the population is the morality that says that the Holocaust is OK because they didn’t target everybody, just a small percentage. What are you worried about? It’s not you. It’s not you. It’s them. And arguing that it’s OK to loot some group because it’s them, or kill some group because it’s them and because it’s a small number, that has no place in a democratic society that treats people equally. The government’s going to do something to or for us, it should treat us all equally. …”
Terry Gross: So you see taxes as being the way they are now terrible discrimination against the wealthy comparable to the kind of discrimination of, say, the Holocaust?
Grover Norquist: Well, what you pick — you can use different rhetoric or different points for different purposes, and I would argue that those who say, ‘Don’t let this bother you; I’m only doing it’ — I, the government. The government is only doing it to a small percentage of the population. That is very wrong. And it’s immoral. They should treat everybody the same. They shouldn’t be shooting anyone, and they shouldn’t be taking half of anybody’s income or wealth when they die.”
Grover’s taken the wild leap from the estate tax being unfair and confiscatory (a legitimate, though wrong-headed argument) to the estate tax as the equivalent of “killing some group because it’s small and wealthy and no one will care.” Phew, I’m dizzy from following all the twisted ideological perversity in this argument.
So let’s get back to historical lesson number 1 about the Holocaust: it is not a generic event to which any and all things you don’t like can be comapred. After all, it’s not the “holocuast,” it’s the “Holocaust.” A unique and horrible event in human history. Someone like Norquist who abuses the Holocaust in this way has done a deep disservice to the Jewish people and especially to those six million who died in it.
Which brings me once again to Richard Cohen’s column in which he writes:
In fact, the moral equivalency Norquist concocts [between the estate tax and the Holocaust] is his own — and it speaks volumes about the ‘morality’ of anti-tax Republicans. To them, the rich owe nothing — just like the poor, they would say. (The difference between rich and poor escapes them.) This is unbridled selfishness in the guise of ideology and makes wealth the moral equivalent of ethnicity or religion or even sexual preference. To Norquist, distinguishing between rich and poor is like making a selection at Auschwitz. It not only trivializes the Holocaust, it collapses all moral distinctions.
When Trent Lott praised Strom Thurmond, the longtime segregationist (and laundry room Lothario), he revealed a mentality that not even Senate Republicans could publicly support — and Lott had to resign as majority leader. Norquist has gone even further, likening the morality of mass murder to the imposition of a tax on the rich. At his next meeting of GOP activists, someone ought to ask him if he’s out of his mind. If no one does, it’s because they all are.
And why have no Republicans called for Norquist to apologize (at the least) or resign from any leadership positions within the Republican Party? It’s shameful that no one in that Party understands not only how ridiculous his statement was, but how repulsive and deeply offensive it is to Jews or anyone who understands the profound moral sui generis nature of the Holocaust.
I’d also like to hear Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League get involved in this case. And African-American organizations like the NAACP too. If Trent Lott’s comments could not be tolerated in modern American society, then Norquist’s equally ignorant comments must not be countenanced either.