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Opinion: Grover Norquist has a label for Barack Obama

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John McCain has been trying hard of late to link Barack Obama with Jimmy Carter in the public consciousness, hoping that the ‘ineffectual’ label that many voters affix to the former president will prove transferable.

But Grover Norquist -- the conservative activist who specializes in promoting an anti-tax agenda and, more generally, revels in the role of agent provocateur -- is offering a different comparison.

Norquist dropped by The Times’ Washington bureau today and, as part of his negative critique of Obama’s liberal stances on economic issues and other matters, he termed the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee ‘John Kerry with a tan.’

Since Norquist isn’t running for anything, he can get away with such remarks; we doubt McCain will be incorporating the line into his speeches anytime soon.

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Norquist’s clout on the right is such, however, that McCain and his aides will pay attention to his thoughts on who would fit well in the second spot on the GOP’s presidential ticket. And in his chat with Times’ reporters and editors, he was especially high on Bobby Jindal, the recently elected governor of Louisiana.

Norquist touted Jindal’s success in pushing through tax-cut and ethics reform legislation during his short tenure as Louisiana’s chief executive (no mention was made of the flap surrounding the governor for failing, so far, to live up to a promise to block a pay raise for state legislators).

Nominating Jindal for vice president also would generate a mother lode of contributions for Republicans from Americans of East Indian descent, Norquist predicted.

Another recipient of kind words as a veep prospect was Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota; Norquist praised his record on taxes save for one ‘mistake’ -- approving a hike in state cigarette taxes in years past.

Norquist’s most recent book is entitled ‘Leave Us Alone,’ which makes the case that Republicans can put together a post-Ronald Reagan governing coalition by appealing to voters who want government to stay out of their affairs.

Along those lines, he predicted that one reason conservative radio talk show hosts will rally behind McCain -- who many of them have been cool toward -- is that some Democratic leaders are advocating a return of the ‘fairness doctrine.’ That’s the abandoned federal rule that required broadcasters to give equal time to opposing political viewpoints.

[UPDATE: John Kartch, Norquist’s director of communications, e-mailed Friday with ‘two concerns’ about the post. ‘One, it suggests that Grover was singling out Kerry. The entire statement was that Obama had no policy differences with Carter in 1980, [Walter] Mondale, [Michael] Dukakis, [Al] Gore or Kerry. ‘Kerry with a tan,’ was simply Kerry was the latest of the string. Two, to be fair to Kerry, Grover pointed out that even Kerry’s reputation as a snob never went as far as Obama’s contemptuous comment on middle America ‘clinging’ to its guns and faith.]

-- Don Frederick


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