Poor George H.W. Bush. His "read my lips, no new taxes" line is sure to go down in history as one of the greatest gaffes ever committed by a Presidential candidate, and with good reason. Not only was the line a campaign promise that Bush ended up breaking, but his willingness to raise taxes in exchange for government spending cuts that never materialized shows that it was a campaign promise that wasn't even worth breaking in the first place.
Of course, the political fiasco that Bush caused by making that promise and then breaking it has since become a rallying cry for antitax spokesmen within the GOP. The foremost of these is Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, and host of the much speculated about "Wednesday meetings," for whom the story has arguably attained the status of a parable. Needless to say, Bush probably absolutely loathes Norquist for exploiting this painful memory.
This apparent distaste led Bush to fire off an extremely harsh response to Norquist in an interview with Parade Magazine, published today, dismissing the antitax crusader as a nobody:
PARADE: During your presidency you gave in on your “no new taxes” pledge. You’ve been vindicated in many respects for that decision. I wonder how you view the “no new tax” pledge from Grover Norquist that seems to be requisite for GOP political candidates.
GB: The rigidity of those pledges is something I don’t like. The circumstances change and you can’t be wedded to some formula by Grover Norquist. It’s—who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?
BB: I think he ought to go back to Alaska. [laughs] Don’t quote me!
The quote from "BB" indicates Bush's wife, Barbara, shares her husband's dim view of Norquist.
Norquist, however, took the whole thing in stride, responding as only an amused and successful activist can by tweeting the following image:
Norquist also took aim at Bush personally in an interview in the Huffington Post, slamming the former President as a liar:
"He didn't lose this election because he lied to me, he lost the next election because he didn't keep his word to the American people," said Norquist in an interview with The Huffington Post.
Norquist took exception to Bush's focus on him, stressing that the pledge is a commitment to the public.
Referencing a HuffPost headline showing different characters named "Grover," Norquist said, "The key thing: The pledge is not to Grover Cleveland, it's not to Grover the furry monster, it's not to Grover Norquist. It's to the American people."
"I think he was buying into the Harry Reid argument recently that somehow the pledge is to me," Norquist said. "Now he knows better than that ... He gave a speech at the Republican convention. He didn't turn to the side and say, 'By the way, Grover, I won't raise taxes.' He said to the American people, I'm not going to raise your taxes, take that to the bank."[...]
"It was 22 years ago. Let's give the guy some slack," he said. "He had an otherwise successful presidency ... He got Iraq out of Kuwait without occupying the place for a decade -- he ought to have a conversation with his son about how you do that. But he had one big hole in the bottom of the boat, and that was a tax increase."[...]
"The reason why Republicans today take the pledge and keep it is they have the example of George Bush winning the primary because he made that commitment, winning the general election because he made that commitment and then losing the presidency because he broke that commitment to the American people," said Norquist. "So he's a very big part of the success of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge."
Ball's in your court, Mr. President.