Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman calls for an end to the Norquist tax pledge

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Robert Thurman

In this short talk, Professor Robert Thurman of Columbia University highlights the contradiction involved in congresspeople taking the oath of allegiance to the US Constitution and also pledging never, under any circumstances, to raise taxes. Further, he argues that the desire of Grover Norquist, who started this pledge, to shrink government to the size that it can be “drowned in a bathtub” is anarchistic and profoundly unconstitutional: in effect an act of sedition or treason.

The core of the sedition argument is that the oath of office says:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.

Congress members, he argues, who take an oath to an outside organization — an oath moreover that could compromise the intent of the constitution, which includes “to provide for the common defence” and to “promote the general welfare” — cannot say they have taken their oath “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.”

Thurman hopes that this meme will spread and take root on The Daily Show and other popular outlets. The video’s been out for a while, though, and although it’s garnered some attention the YouTube video has only had about 18,000 views so far. The virality of the attempted meme is probably undercut by the length of the video (almost 12 minutes), and the fact that the professor takes his time making his point.

2023 update: the original video is now no longer on YouTube, but here’s a transcript.

Hi, I’m Bob Thurman. I’m making this short video because I want to start a meme about those people in our government who refuse to cooperate with the president and with the more practical and pragmatic senators and congress persons of the five hundred and thirty eight people serving us at the top levels of the congress and the executive branch.

There are some who are not fulfilling their vow of office, their oath of office. Their oath of office says that “I hereby swear solemnly swear to support the U.S. constitution and I do so freely, of my own free will, without mental reservation or purpose of evasion.”

“So help me god,” they throw in there. And the president takes a similar one.

And what that means is that once they’re elected to office that they have pledged to serve the government, which is what is created by the U.S. constitution. And the government’s job is to serve the people of the United States.

And so the kind of radical positions they might take when they are in election mode, you know, before they take their oath of office: they [say] you know, I will never do this, and I’ll never compromise that, and these kind of extreme statements that they make — once they take the oath of office they cannot cling radically and uncompromisingly to those positions or the government will not function and will not serve the need of the people.

And there are almost like ninety five percent of the congressmen and Republican senators have sworn a written oath to someone called Grover Norquist, and an organization called “Americans for Tax Reform,” that they will under no circumstances, and for no reason, raise taxes of any kind on anyone. And therefore they have taken an oath to an outside organization which was not supported by the U.S. constitution, which gives congress the right to levy taxes to do the work of the people through the government.

But this is a non-governmental organization! It is not elected by anybody. It is supported by big money people who are making money by not having to pay taxes. And these people have signed a sworn oath that contradicts their oath of office.

And therefore in fact they do have mental reservation.

And they do have purpose of evasion.

And they are not sincerely taking their oath of office.

And if they persist in that, and if they are held to that pledge by this outside person, who is not a member of the government, then they are in fact breaking their oath of office, and they are not serving what they swore to serve – the American people.

And people, even the sort of the people on the left so-called, critical, liberal people, so-called, who’re criticizing what they call right-wing people — it’s not a matter of right wing or left wing actually, it’s a matter of whether they take seriously the role of being a loyal opposition if they didn’t happen to win the last election — their party, but between elections they have to be loyal opposition which means serve the government.

So i want this – the seriousness of this blackmailing of the government that they are doing, to be out there in people’s minds. That’s the meme I want to start.

I want people to really see that, because everybody wants to be polite. And you know I’m a liberal. I want to be polite. And I’m trying to be polite. But this is a really serious thing that is going on, which is paralyzing our government and causing tremendous loss to us at a time when many people are unemployed, many people are below the poverty line. And the government is there to help those people. That’s what the U.S. constitution asks.

When the supreme court oath is taken, by the way, they make specific in that oath: it says without regard to rich or poor, because I will not favor the rich against the poor in my decisions as a judge. And that leaves some thought about the way they’re executing their duty.

But I’m only talking now about the congress people particularly, and the senators: senators and congress persons.

Furthermore, Americans for Tax Reform openly states that their job is not simply a matter of trimming taxes and leaving the government functioning. The head of that organization, Mister Grover Norquist, has publicly stated – proudly stated — that he wants to “starve the beast”: referring to the government as “the beast.” And so when it’s weakened by starvation, he can then drown it in a bathtub, he says.

So that means that … the people taking the oath … the oath that he is administering is an oath taken with a purpose of destroying the U.S government. It’s a kind of anarchist proposition. It’s a pretense that the government is completely useless and should be destroyed. Therefore, it is actually a kind of seditious oath, treasonous oath. People who take that oath cannot actually serve in the government with a good conscience, because their real role is to act as a mole and to destroy the government. They are “starving the beast.”

And the expression “the beast,” I must say, this appeals to people who are religious people, who take the Book of Revelations seriously in the Christian Bible. And by taking that seriously, “the beast” refers to Satan, to the beast, the 666, the demon. So it’s a very negative way of depicting the U.S. government, which is enacting the provisions of the U.S. constitution.

So this is a very serious conflict of interest that these people have, so, when President Obama and house minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and any moderate Republicans, and hopefully speaker John Boehner who wants to see the government work, who realizes it’s in his own, not in his own interests not to see it work (and I’m of course not sure whether he signed that pledge or not, but I’m afraid he might have) when he is told by the the caucus of the extreme members in the House that they can’t compromise and they can’t make a grand bargain because they have sworn an oath never to raise any taxes on anybody, then the people of the United States, you people listening to this, and me, should rise up through the internet or through our – we will not be electing … through impeachment, urging for impeachment, because this means that they are favoring their oath to the Americans for Tax Reform, a signed formal solemn oath, over their formal solemn oath sworn to the U.S. constitution, on the Bible they believe is is the holy book, the one Hindu congress person on the Bhagavadgita, which I think its a wonderful thing about our country — our pluralism.

And so therefore that is grounds for their impeachment, actually, and I want them to know that this is in our minds, that they are deserving impeachment. If they block the grand bargain that we need, for example the debt ceiling, they cost us billions of dollars, by blackmailing the president and the more moderate members of congress that they would never raise the debt ceiling unless whatever they want is enacted, which when you don’t raise it you lose your credit rating and then we pay more interest on debt we have, and therefore we lose billions of dollars. With their supposed deficit-reduction attitude they’re costing us billions of dollars. So that shows they are not sincere about deficit reduction, but actually trying to destroy our government — enacting an anarchic, an anarchists program rather than upholding the U.S constitution which is not an anarchist document.

So this is the meme I want to convey, and i hope it will spread.

And I will say it again and again. I’ll make more videos. I’ll try to get on Jon Stewart, and Bill Maher, and … Hell! I don’t need to get on! They can repeat it! I just want this meme to go out there so that people begin to take it more seriously, what is happening to our government — that people whose underlying reasoning is to destroy our government are actually with mental reservation and purpose of evasion that they swear they don’t have, they are taking their offices. And therefore they are unfit for their offices, if they persist.

So what I recommend to them is that in a single body they all renounce, publicly, their oath to the Americans for Tax Reform, they reassure poor Grover Norquist that they intend to moderate taxes and to remove waste in government and to do a good job making the government lean and efficient. But they cannot take that oath. They must renounce that oath in order to retake their oath of office, sincerely, without mental reservation, and without purpose of evasion, which is what they must do to be reinstated in our good graces as the people of the United States, of whom they are the employees.

Remember, even dear old Clint Eastwood while talking to the chair said that the people of the United States own the government, and the people who are paid salaries by the government serve the government and serve the constitution. They do not serve some sort of NGO thing, Americans for Tax Reform, that wants to destroy the government. They serve us the people. And we need a government to do some things that we need. We don’t just need them to be broken by these infiltrators.

Okay, so this is the meme. And it’s loving. I’m not against a single one of those persons individually. I really like the idea of the Tea Party. We have to remember the tea party was against the British Empire, and against the British East India Corporation. It wasn’t against the local government of the United States, which is helping people with their services, their roads and their sewage and their whatever it is. It wasn’t against them. It was against the British East India Company and the British Empire, to liberate the American government that was then created by the people who who did the tea party.

So let’s try to remember that the real tea party is against monied interests and against ruthless corporations and imperialist behavior on the part of the 0.01 percent. It is not against the U.S. government … not, not being a proper tea party; it has no right to the name Tea Party if it is against the U.S. government.

Thank you very much. And i hope you can repeat this to your friends. Make your own videos if you think I didn’t do it right.

Let’s see this spread in a viral way, democratically. Thank you very much.

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