Alan Simpson and Grover Norquist Go to the Zoo

Grover Norquist, Alan Simpson and I spent a summer afternoon at the National Zoo. This is what I saw.

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Chris Buck for TIME

Alan Simpson and Grover Norquist, sans talking points, at the zoo.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  You talk so that I can build up a whole litany of conversation.

MR. NORQUIST:  That’s fine.  He’s got a tape.  He can put it in as we go.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  Well, I don’t want to do that.  But anyway, the important thing for me this day is for the American public to see a couple of guys who go at each other and with relish and we can talk.  I think the worst thing that can happen in the country and it’s happening is give each other the ice treatment, like I ain’t talking to you.  That’s just bullshit.  I ain’t talking to North Korea.  I ain’t talking to Iran.  To me, that has never made — and certainly, then the word compromise, good God, every document in our history is the subject of compromise.  The Declaration of Independence, three months of putting the Constitution, every word in it is compromised.  And those are the things that trouble me.

MR. NORQUIST:  I agree with you, certainly on the first point, and I think mostly on the second point.  I think it’s always important to talk.  You always learn, even if you’re going to disagree you learn where the other person is coming from.  You always get ideas.  You may not be willing to admit it quite at the time, but later as you think about it, you learn.

And I never understood the argument some had, don’t talk to Iran or North Korea.  How would it hurt you to talk to them?

SENATOR SIMPSON:  You feel that way?  I feel that way deeply.

MR. NORQUIST:  If they ask you for Wyoming, you say no.  Talking to somebody doesn’t mean you have to —

SENATOR SIMPSON:  We simply don’t talk because we give up.  I said you don’t have to give up anything.  Just tell them to stuff it.

MR. NORQUIST:  It’s people who aren’t in  the room who don’t just the guys who would be part of the negotiations, whose position is don’t talk because I think you’ll give up stuff.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  Give away something, yeah.

MR. NORQUIST:  And the answer is if people felt free to — look at North Korea.  We, every day, as I understand it, the American military and the North Korean military talk every day at the border.  Now if you only talk once every seven — to make sure nobody is shooting each other and hitting each other with axes, and there are no mistakes in terms of violence that they weren’t planning, but nobody, the press doesn’t sit there breathlessly saying what did you agree to today?  Because we meet every day.

But if you’re going to have these summits every three years, then you have the problem where you’re expected to do something.  And remember, they yelled at Reagan because he didn’t do something on Reykjavik.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  I remember that.

MR. NORQUIST:  So the more times you meet and the more times you talk, the easier it is to meet and talk and nobody has false expectations.

[At this point we had reached the outdoor gorilla pen.]

MR. NORQUIST:  Domestically, I think it’s a very good idea to talk to people and I much prefer debates to parallel speeches because everybody is better —

SENATOR SIMPSON:  Well, you’re good at it.

MR. NORQUIST:  Well, everybody is better in a debate because they don’t get sloppy.  There’s that wonderful New Yorker cartoon where the Mussolini character is out on the balcony and he’s saying to this crowd, “And I think I can say without fear of contradiction …”  Of course, you can.  You’re the only guy there.

But in a debate, you can’t say something without fear of contraction, so you better not make stuff up.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  I did one of those with Grover and we hammered each other.

MR. NORQUIST:  That was fun.  We never got to pee in public though.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  It was a public debate in a private location.

MR. SCHERER:  How many years back was it?

MR. NORQUIST:  Three or four.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  Three or four.

MR. NORQUIST:  It was about the time that some of the big fights about whether we should raise taxes or how we should approach a budget deal.  How many times had you been there?  I was the first time for me.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  I had given a couple of lake-side lectures before on politics as a context for it.  And you can’t love democracy and hate politicians.  That really pissed them off.


MR. NORQUIST:  This is the — what’s it called?

SENATOR SIMPSON:  The Bohemian Grove.

MR. NORQUIST:  Bohemian Grove.

MR. SCHERER:  Out in California.

MR. NORQUIST:  Yeah, the whole thing, all I was told about it is that people pee in public.  And I never saw any peeing in public.


SENATOR SIMPSON:  No, they have pee-free zones.

MR. NORQUIST:  You know, I went to the store, to the shop and I said I want to buy one of those no yellow pee signs.  And they said we don’t sell them.  I said you’ve got to be kidding me.


You would do a land office — you see a little yellow drop and a little sign no on it.  I said this —

MR. SCHERER:  Does the redwood tree start to smell?

SENATOR SIMPSON:  Speaking of which, Goldwater said years ago, everybody was talking about leaks now.  He said, “Look, there are more leaks in this government than in the bathroom at the Anheuser Busch brewery.”


MR. NORQUIST:  Goldwater said that?  That’s pretty good.

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