Norquist vs. Public Opinion

Conservatives had better hope that Grover Norquist doesn't speak for them.

The head of Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist has fought the good fight on many issues over the years. To my knowledge Norquist has never cared much about moral values issues, certainly not the raging debate over the sewage flooding our public airwaves courtesy of the broadcast networks.

Not, that is, until those broadcast networks came knocking.

Fox, NBC and CBS formed and financed an organization to fight those public policy groups that are holding them accountable for their abuse of the public airwaves. The networks didn't want their organization to look like the industry front it is; they needed a front man or two to give their effort a "public policy" imprimatur. Norquist agreed to do their bidding.

And is now delivering for his benefactors.

For decades the FCC has had the authority, legislated by Congress and affirmed by the Supreme Court, to fine broadcasters for gross violations of community standards of decency on the public airwaves. The issue at hand is the proposal to institute real fines and real punishments as opposed to the meaningless $32,500 maximum fine per violation that exists today This is what the industry is trying to stop and they've now recruited Norquist to hit the polemical panic button on their behalf. He does so by pretending the FCC has run amuck. "It's socialism," Norquist hyperventilates to Newsweek. "People are saying, 'This is puritanical Puritanism.' No, it's still socialism, dressing it up and getting a minister to say it doesn't change that."

The broadcasters need Norquist to unload on the Parents Television Council specifically. The PTC has organized and mobilized over a million parents to fight for their rights as owners of the public airwaves, and for that reason is the proximate target of this industry front group. But how does one attack parents for exercising their rights and responsibilities? Norquist offers this Orwellian head-scratcher: "You can't have a parents'-rights movement without having some respect for parents' rights." Only in Washington does gibberish like this sound reasonable.

The networks need Norquist to attack this writer for speaking out on this issue, too. So Norquist takes his best shot: "[Bozell] has spent more time talking about this than we have... The truth is that nobody in the conservative movement, or damn close to nobody, agrees with him on this."

Political strategist Norquist must have missed that exit poll after the November elections, the one that found that the No. 1 issue of concern to most Americans is "Moral Values."

He must be unaware of the First Amendment Center survey last summer that found 65% of adults think "government should have the power to regulate during the morning, afternoon and early evening hours those broadcast television programs that contain references to sexual activity." And half of the respondents want to increase the FCC's power to cover the entire 24 hour cycle.

But maybe Norquist listens only to Republican pollsters. So how about a Wirthlin Worldwide poll? It showed 59% of Americans believing the FCC needed to "work harder" to enforce the broadcast indecency law work.

According to the Pew Research Center's April 2005 report, "Fully 75% [of Americans] favor tighter enforcement of government rules on TV content during hours when children are most likely to be watching. Sizable majorities also back other indecency proposals currently before Congress, including steeper fines (69%) and extending network standards for indecency to cable television (60%)." It is safe to presume that the majority of these majorities is conservative. Norquist's proclamation that "nobody in the conservative movement or damn near nobody" cares about the decadent nature of entertainment programming is nothing more than hot air.

And this survey brings even worse news for him. What of the suggestion being made by the Norquist camp that conservative Republicans are fearful of the FCC monitoring the broadcast airwaves? "[On] the fundamental question of whether undue government restrictions or harmful content presents the greater danger, a solid majority of conservative Republicans (57%) cite harmful entertainment."

There you have it. Mr. Norquist not only doesn't speak for conservatives on this issue, he has no idea what conservatives believe. He speaks only for the special interests of those at CBS, Fox, and NBC responsible for the decadence, and wishing its continuation.