The Real Grover Norquist
Did the antitax activist tell a Spanish newspaper that the Greatest Generation was "anti-American"? Sort of.
6:18 PM, Sep 28, 2004 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
ON SEPTEMBER 12, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo published a wide-ranging interview with Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, prominent conservative activist, and Karl Rove ally. It was a long interview, presented in a traditional Q & A format. You can go to El Mundo's website, access the interview, and find Norquist saying this (in Spanish):
Each year, two million people who fought in the Second World War and lived through the Great Depression die. This generation has been an exception in American history, because it has defended anti-American policies. They voted for the creation of the welfare state and obligatory military service. They are the base of the Democratic Party. And they are dying.
Or at least that's how another news outlet, Agence France-Presse, translated the Spanish into English. And it took no time at all for publications like the New Republic and Slate to jump on Norquist's incendiary language. Whereupon Norquist denied the whole thing. Sort of.
What Norquist denied was that he had used the word "anti-American." "I did not say that any generation in American history is anti-American," he told AFP on September 22. "I didn't say it." He told Slate's Timothy Noah and June Thomas that Pablo Pardo, the author of the El Mundo interview, "took his understanding of a paraphrase of what he thinks I was saying, then he wrote it up in his own words."
In its follow-up piece, AFP reported that Norquist "was trying to secure a tape of the interview." And Slate, too, said it was trying to locate Pardo and listen to the recording, if one exists.
Well, one does. THE WEEKLY STANDARD sat down with Pardo (an occasional contributor) and listened to it on Tuesday afternoon. And, what's more, Norquist is right. He never said the World War II generation "defended anti-American policies." However, he did say that the World War II "age cohort," to use his phrase, promoted "un-American" policies.
The El Mundo interview took place in late August, prior to the Republican National Convention, when Pardo interviewed Norquist in Americans for Tax Reform's Washington, DC, offices. According to Pardo's tape recording of the interview, the reporter started off by asking Norquist who will win this year's presidential election.
Norquist replied, "Well, you can argue it both ways." And he continued:
In 2000, when Gore was the incumbent, he had peace and prosperity, he had all the power of the government, Bush was unknown and he had the DUI show up at the last minute. This time Bush has the incumbency, Bush has economic growth, there's not going to be some surprise that hurts Bush at the last minute personally whereas Kerry might have something come up that you don't know about. Incumbents don't get surprises, challengers do, guys that have never run nationally before do. And we've had four more years pass where the age cohort that is most Democratic and most pro-statist, are those people who turned 21 years of age between 1932 and 1952--Great Depression, New Deal, World War II--Social Security, the draft--all that stuff. That age cohort is now between the ages of 70 and 90 years old, and every year 2 million of them die. So 8 million people from that age cohort have passed away since the last election; that means, net, maybe 1 million Democrats have disappeared--and even the Republicans in that age group.
Norquist went on:
This is an age cohort that voted for a draft before the war started, and allowed the draft to continue for 25 years after the war was over. Their idea of the legitimate role of the state is radically different than anything previous generations knew, or subsequent generations. Before that generation, whenever you put a draft in, there were draft riots. After that generation, there were draft riots. This generation? No problem. Why not? Of course the government moves people around like pawns on a chessboard. One-size-fits-all labor law, one-size-fits-all Social Security. We will all work until we're 65 and have the same pension. You know, some Bismarck, German thing, okay? Very un-"American". Very unusual for America. The reaction to Great Depression, World War II, and so on: Centralization--not as much centralization as the rest of the world got, but much more than is usual in America. We've spent a lot of time dismantling some of that and moving away from that level of regimentation: getting rid of the draft . . .
. . . at which point Norquist was interrupted by staff members. When the interview resumed, the conservative activist explained how, even though around 1 million Democrats have died since the 2000 election, John Kerry might still win.
So, where did the AFP quote come from? It is an accurate translation into English of what appeared in El Mundo in Spanish. And it should be said that if you take something uttered in English, then translate it into Spanish, and then have a third party translate the result back into English, you are probably not going to end up with what you started with. Still, it does look like Pardo paraphrased the locquacious Norquist, and then put his paraphrases in quotes. For instance, nowhere in the interview does Norquist say members of the Greatest Generation "are the base of the Democratic Party. And they are dying." When I asked Pardo about this on Tuesday, he said simply, "that's mine."
Pardo also points out that you cannot translate "un-American" directly into Spanish. He uses the Collins English/Spanish dictionary, 1980 edition, in which "un-American"--Norquist's phrase--is translated as "antiamericano"--the word Pardo used in his El Mundo piece. Of course, all this may be a distinction without a difference: the American Heritage Dictionary defines "un-American" as "considered contrary to the institutions or principles of the United States," which sounds a lot like . . . well, "anti-American."
Correction appended. The original version of this transcript read "one side spits off" instead of "one-size-fits-all".
Matthew Continetti is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.