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The Republicans' 'Pledge to America' UPDATED

Today, the House Republicans released their Pledge to America. David Frum, the Republican whose claim to fame these days is bashing other Republicans, is already panning it, which tells me that it’s probably praiseworthy.

In fact, the very idea that Frum is trying to position himself as the Tea Party’s advocate, as he does in his post on the Pledge, is risible. He has no demonstrated connection to the Tea Party’s priorities, and is in fact their enemy in a way: his “compassionate conservatism” is big government, of the very kind that is bankrupting the nation and that the Tea Party despises. In many ways, the Tea Party is a revolt against the Beltway-captive Frums of the world. But enough about him.

The “Pledge to America” name is obviously intended to invoke the 1994 “Contract with America” that the Republicans used to centralize and nationalize their message that year en route to taking both houses of Congress for the first time in decades. As a historical allusion, it’s good. Republicans unified and rode to victory in 1994, and are on the verge of doing the same thing in 2010. I would have preferred something bolder, and in fact proposed a “Freedom Agenda” to the RNC several months back when I was still inside the party structure. But the “Pledge to America” is solid.

It tells the voters that the Republicans in the House, who can be expected to walk point in opposing President Obama’s threatened “fundamental transformation of America” after November, understand the task that’s before them, are mindful of the history that’s behind them, and mean business. They will stop the Obama agenda and replace it with a better set of priorities that will help restore fiscal sanity and a healthier relationship between the people and our government.

The document begins with a paraphrase of the Declaration of Independence, but changes course over the question of ending tyrannical government: the Pledge calls for changing the agenda of government rather than changing the government itself. As for its goals, they can be summed up this way:


– Stop job-killing tax hikes

– Allow small businesses to take a tax deduction equal to 20 percent of their income

– Require congressional approval for any new federal regulation that would add to the deficit

– Repeal small business mandates in the new health care law.

Cutting Spending:

– Repeal and replace health care

– Roll back non-discretionary spending to 2008 levels before TARP and stimulus (will save $100 billion in first year alone)

– Establish strict budget caps to limit federal spending going forward

– Cancel all future TARP payments and reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Reforming Congress:

– Will require that every bill have a citation of constitutional authority

– Give members at least 3 days to read bills before a vote


– Provide resources to troops

– Fund missile defense

– Enforce sanctions in Iran

The section on reforming Congress is key. As John Hawkins wrote, Congress is operating right now without any constraints on bad behavior as long as their behavior doesn’t actually break the law. Congress has become the prime mover of the country’s fiscal problems, routinely passing legislation that empowers government at the expense of the governed, that spends far more money than is reasonable or wise, and that violates the Constitution.

Forcing sponsors of legislation to spell out exactly where in the Constitution they believe the authority exists to make their proposals legal will tell us quite a bit about what our representatives think, both about the Constitution and about us. True, they can invoke the Commerce Clause as they have for about a century now to justify all sorts of mischief, but a zillion repeats of that trick will wear out the people’s patience.

The Pledge gives Republicans a unifying set of principles and priorities to run on, and at the same time it gives the voters a positive reason to put Republicans in office. The Democrats, on the other hand, have two things haunting them: their own record of voting against the people’s wishes and spending so much money that we’re on the edge of national bankruptcy, and their own record of routinely violating Speaker Pelosi’s pledge to preside over the “most ethical Congress ever.”

The Pledge blunts the Democrats’ charge that the Republicans have just become a “Party of No.” The Pledge says, “No, and here’s why we’re saying no, and here’s what we’d like to do instead.” When it comes to the Obama agenda, “No!” is the right answer. Republicans, a majority of independents, and even a healthy slice of the Democrats’ own base agrees. The Pledge to America strikes me as the right answer both to helping Republicans win in November and to reversing the tremendous damage that the Democrats have done to the nation since 2007.

Update: The Most Ridiculous Post to Come From Red State…Ever. And that’s really about all I have to say about Erick’s post.  It was obviously written by someone who has never done much deep thinking about the broad coalitions of the type that are necessary to win elections.  There are times when banging your spoon and yelling at your own party is just and right.  This isn’t one of those times.  This is one of those times to shore up your base and reach out to the broad middle, telling them that you hear and agree with their disagreements with the bunch that’s in power.  The Pledge does that.  That’s what it’s supposed to do.  And that’s all it needs to do.

Update: Alright, one more rant about this.  The Pledge is actually a lot better than most party platforms on either side, and for the purposes of the mid-terms, the Pledge amounts to a party platform.  Erickson’s and Frum’s complaints, though, remind me of the kind of activist who typically revels in the wonky, lengthy meetings in which party platforms are produced.  These well-intentioned folks come to the convention to drive their one pet issue, without any regard for how the language that they want inserted into the platform might play in the world beyond hard core politics.  So they do everything possible, to the point of driving the platform meetings into the ditch, so they can get their way and get their pet issue language inserted.  And then they leave the convention patting themselves on the back for having done their thing, never caring that they may have created a lasting thorn in the side for their own party.  That they Spoke, is all that matters.  That’s the attitude I see in both Erickson’s and Frum’s rants on the Pledge.  They want their way and won’t accept anything else, even if they’re being counterproductive and destructive in how they’re pursuing their aims, however laudable and worthy those aims might be.

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