“The speaker has never voted for a tax hike, and he never will,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner. “Like Mr. Norquist, he has always fought for lower taxes, and a smaller, less costly government in Washington.”
A very personal library
Norquist likes reading about himself. In his headquarters’ library, opposite the 100-plus copies of his own book (“Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government’s Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives”), are shelves reserved for tomes in which he is quoted. A hallway is lined with framed newspaper and magazine stories about him. One is in Japanese. In his executive office, decorated with a green lava lamp, a Janis Joplin poster (“a high point of Western civilization,” he said) and stuffed “Sesame Street” Grover dolls, another floor-to-ceiling bookcase holds titles including a 1994 comic book called “Taxpayers’ Tea Party” in which he is depicted. He plucked a copy of Ralph Nader’s “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us” out of the stacks, because, he said, “I’m a major character in it.” The green tags on the pages, he explained, mark every time his persona appears.
Norquist is also a frequent and combative presence on television. As he offered a tour of his office, he asked his communications director to confirm an in-studio radio interview at 10 p.m. with Jim Bohannon.
His hunger for the spotlight extends to less likely stages, as well. Last year, his political and family humor earned him third place behind White House speechwriter Jon Lovett and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) in the “D.C.’s Funniest Celebrities” contest. He said he specialized in Steven Wright-style one-liners. (“When midgets play miniature golf, do they know?” he deadpanned.)
Norquist is better known for more controversial lines, such as saying he wants to shrink government enough so that he can “drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Being willing to speak in absolutist, brook-no-dissent sound bites has made him extremely valuable to political media built around conflict.
And all that attention is highly valuable to Norquist, who depends on the media to magnify the fate of pledge-breakers. For instance, when President George H.W. Bush lost in 1992 to Bill Clinton after breaking his “read my lips” vow not to raise taxes, “I didn’t have to buy ads — CBS, NBC and ABC told everybody,” Norquist said.