Grover Norquist, Immigration Reform, and a Bogus Argument


Many American liberals regard Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, as a right-wing extremist.  For some years he has used a pledge against tax increases very effectively, getting the vast majority of Republican elected officials to sign it.  Liberals therefore view him as terrorizing Republican officeholders out of supporting needed tax increases.

On the question of immigration, however, Norquist is far from being a right-wing zealot.  This is not to say that he is no zealot here, only that he is a zealot on the other side.  This story at National Review Online discusses the zeal and energy that Norquist is bringing to arguing in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.


Norquist, of course, has a right to argue for whatever he thinks is best.  He ought, however, to use real arguments instead of sophistic ones.  Here he is in the NRO article, responding to the concerns of Republican Senate staffers (and pre-emptively to the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector) on the impact of an immigration amnesty on federal entitlement spending:

“The idea of treating people as a liability — that more people coming in might go on welfare — that’s an argument against having babies, that’s an argument for car accidents, an argument for abortion . . . We ought to be in favor of people not getting killed in car accidents, not getting aborted, and immigrating to the United States — and reforming welfare. You don’t screw up your policies to fit a stupid government program. You reform the stupid government program.”

This is pure sophistry.  You could just as reasonably — or, rather, unreasonably — say that Norquist in his other policy incarnation, as anti-tax crusader, believes that federal revenues are a liability, that taxes ought to be reduced to zero.  “The idea of treating federal revenues as a liability, that’s an argument for eliminating taxes, for tax-evasion, for the abolition of government and the creation of anarchy.”  Either claim is ridiculous.

Tax policy and immigration policy are both areas in which the issues, especially as they are presented in our current politics, are mostly prudential.  I mean that the best approaches to these issues depend on complex considerations, because they implicate many genuine but competing goods.  In the case of taxes you have to consider the government’s need for revenues, respect for the property rights of tax payers, the affect of tax rates on people’s incentive to work, and many other important considerations.  In the case of immigration you would have to weigh the claims of humanity towards immigrants, even those who immigrated unlawfully, the effect of immigration on the economy and the nation’s finances (both costs and benefits), and the effect of policy choices on respect for the rule of law, among other important factors.

Getting these matters right depends on sober argument based on appeals to principles and evidence.  It can’t be done on the basis of moralistic, demagogic grandstanding masquerading as argument.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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