Friday, September 24, 2010

The Pledge; or, how Republicans intend to bring America to its knees

The Republicans' new "Pledge to America" is, for all intents and purposes, and not to put too fine a word on it, an utterly pathetic document, a transparently contrived attempt to lay out a plan without any actual substance at all. Compared to the party's 1994 "Contract with [on] America," which was quite radical, it's a flimsy rehashing of the same old standard Republican agenda, the same old failed policies of the past, trickle-down economics with dashes of anti-government libertarianism and theocratic social conservatism. If anything, it is a pledge that, if followed through on, would guarantee another Great Depression and hasten the collapse of the American Empire while making the rich richer and screwing everyone else. Here's how Ezra Klein sees is, and I think he's right:

Their policy agenda is detailed and specific -- a decision they will almost certainly come to regret. Because when you get past the adjectives and soaring language, the talk of inalienable rights and constitutional guarantees, you're left with a set of hard promises that will increase the deficit by trillions of dollars, take health-care insurance away from tens of millions of people, create a level of policy uncertainty businesses have never previously known, and suck demand out of an economy that's already got too little of it.


At the end of the day, America may be an idea -- but it is also a country. And it needs to be governed. This proposal avoids the hard choices of governance. It says what it thinks will be popular and then proposes what it thinks will be popular -- even when the two conflict. That's an idea that may help you win elections, but not one that'll help you govern a country.

What's funny, though, is that conservatives aren't exactly happy with it. Here's a sampling of responses:

-- Erick Erickson, RedState: "These 21 pages tell you lots of things, some contradictory things, but mostly this: it is a serious of compromises and milquetoast rhetorical flourishes in search of unanimity among House Republicans because the House GOP does not have the fortitude to lead boldly in opposition to Barack Obama... Yes, yes, it is full of mom tested, kid approved pablum that will make certain hearts on the right sing in solidarity. But like a diet full of sugar, it will actually do nothing but keep making Washington fatter before we crash from the sugar high...  Overall, this grand illusion of an agenda that will never happen is best spoken of today and then never again as if it did not happen. It is best forgotten."

-- Andrew Roth, Club for "Growth": "I want to like the new GOP Pledge to America. I want to endorse it, but it's so milquetoast that it proves to me that these guys just aren't ready to lead... This Pledge is weak. I wasn't expecting bold leadership with this Pledge, but I was hoping for it. It didn't deliver."

-- Philip Klein, The American Spectator: "Republicans have billed their "Pledge to America" as a governing agenda, but it is nothing of the sort. Instead of offering bold solutions to today's most pressing challenges, Republicans chose to compile some small ideas that wouldn't endanger their chances of regaining the majority this November... I understand that some would argue that it's unrealistic to expect a major political party to propose serious entitlement reform weeks before the election. But by the same token, Republicans shouldn't expect conservatives to adopt this exercise in cowardice as their battle cry. Republicans like to address Tea Parties and talk in terms of the revolutionary spirit sweeping across the nation, and they even invoke the Declaration of Independence in the opening of their "Pledge to America." But the proposals contained within the document show that all this revolutionary talk is mere rhetoric, and that in reality Republicans have learned nothing from their time in the wilderness."

Now, the editors of National Review like it, calling it "bolder" than the Contract and "a shrewd political document." The Times' Ross Douthat agrees that it's bolder, but "primarily in negation. Its most substantive promises -- indeed, nearly all of its substantive promises -- involve the rollback of the Obama agenda."

The GOP, you see, really doesn't have much to offer other than a facile recycling of a few of its greatest hits (or worst, depending on your perspective). All it really has to recommend itself to voters, many of them in a knee-jerkingly anti-incumbent mood in this difficult economic time, is that it isn't Obama, and in this is plays also to those who have propagandized into believing that Obama is some sort of fascist-socialist-jihadist anti-American Kenyan-Indonesian Muslim (but who at the very least is black, which is bad enough -- don't think race doesn't play a huge role in the anti-Obama sentiment Republicans are tapping into and feeding).

You can find more right-wing reaction here.

Ultimately, I don't think the Pledge will mean much at all. Republican fortunes in November will be determined by a number of factors -- Republican voter enthusiasm (i.e., turnout); the state of the economy; fear, anger, and frustration throughout the electorate; anti-incumbent sentiment; the success (or failure) of Republican propaganda and the media's willingness to advance pro-Republican narratives; etc. -- but I suspect that the details of the Pledge will not be one of them. Few voters will care about the inanities and inconsistencies of the GOP's policy agenda. Republican talking points, as picked up by the media, will have far more influence, and, right now, it would appear that voters are prepared to hand Republicans a fairly resounding victory -- enough of one to narrow the gap significantly in the Senate, perhaps retake control of the House, and make large gains at the state level. But of course we'll still a long way out and a good deal can change. One wishes that voters would actually delve into the Pledge and learn from it that Republicans really are ill-prepared to lead, and that a Republican victory in November would be terrible for the country, but there is no way rational, reality-based decision-making will prevail in this climate.

I'll give the last word here to independent conservative Andrew Sullivan:

Given the gravity of the debt crisis, this is the most fiscally irresponsible document ever offered by the GOP. It is to the far right of Reagan, who raised taxes and eventually cut defense, and helped reform social security to ensure its longterm viability. It is an act of vandalism against the fiscal balance of the US, and in this global economic climate, a recipe for a double-dip recession and default. It is the opposite of responsible conservatism.

Bring on the Apocalypse!

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