by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A former senator and an anti-tax activist walk into a zoo.
Yes, it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. It’s actually a scenario set up by TIME magazine. TIME invited former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist to the National Zoo in Washington to discuss policy issues. The results are occasionally entertaining, as when Simpson discusses the Simpson-Bowles plan for erasing the federal debt through a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes.
For Simpson, the correct path could not be more obvious, and the current player could not be more stubborn. “If you can’t learn to compromise [on] an issue without compromising yourself, you sure as hell should never be in the legislative body. Every document of this country was a compromise,” Simpson said as the two men approached a cage for the Sulawesi macaques, an endangered Indonesian monkey. “Go home and bitch and raise hell around the city council or something. Go haunt someone else. But you should never come to Congress.”
Adding a tiny piece of personal advice, he said, “And you should never get married.”
Norquist was not impressed by this line of reasoning, which he had heard before. “I am all in favor of compromising on the road to liberty,” he told Simpson by the gorilla pen. “I say if we’re here in D.C. and we’re trying to go to California and we end up in Missouri, this isn’t treason. Missouri is on the way to California. But if your feet are wet and everyone around you is speaking French, you’re losing. That’s not compromising. You’re heading in the wrong direction.”
They passed by an information board with handy facts about chipmunks and squirrels. “Now wait a minute,” said Simpson. “Grover and I know a lot of these people right here, ‘the nut seekers.’ Man, I can name you some of them.”
Norquist nodded and read on. “A chipmunk can put 34 beechnuts in its mouth,” the activist said, clearly in awe.