September 23, 2010

The Pledge Report

Hatched by Dafydd

Today, the Republicans released what they call, with obvious reference, their Pledge to America. Many fiscal conservatives and TPers are savaging the Pledge on grounds that it doesn't go nearly as far as necessary; a good example is Karl, a too-infrequent guest poster at Patterico's Pontifications. (Note to Patterico: More Karl, please!)

Karl inexplicably sees the Pledge less as a political campaign document than as a roadmap (if I may use that term) to how the new GOP majority will govern... and by this analysis, the Pledge comes up wanting:

This year, with the odds already favoring the GOP regaining a House majority, it is again better to judge the new “Pledge” -- which this year’s candidates are not even formally agreeing to support -- on the basis of how well it serves as a governing document and potential confidence builder....

The rise of the Tea Party was driven in no small part by failures in political leadership, particularly Republican leadership. The political task of Republican leadership now is to reconcile the demands of the Tea Party (and, more broadly, the small-government base of the GOP) with the limits imposed by a divided government and the need to attract swing voters who are voting more for gridlock than they are for Republicans. There is not much in the Pledge to suggest the House GOP has figured out how to square that circle.

I don't follow Karl's logic. The main beef every other detractor has against the Pledge is that it comprises nothing but vague generalities; how can that be a governing document, when governing documents tend to be tortuous, byzantine exercises in lawyerese? At best, the Pledge to America is a restatment of the foundational principles of the United States of America, axioms which the GOP now pledges to rededicate itself to restoring.

I have a very different take than Karl: Pledges are useful distractions; by nature, they're all nothing but campaign broadsides:

  • Pledges always materialize before the election, never after. Obviously they're intended to affect the outcome in a way favorable to the pledgers.
  • It's impossible to know exactly how the new majority will govern, because you never know in advance the contours of victory. Will the new Squeaker of the House have enough hegemony to control the agenda? Will the Senate majority be filibuster-proof? Will the president decide to cooperate with the new Congress in order to leave a legacy -- or fight hammer and tooth out of quixotic principle, quasi-legal bribery from special-interest lobbyists, or out of sheer cussedness?
  • Nobody knows for sure how the new majority will vote in the congressional leadership elections, hence who will be running the show.
  • Nobody knows what unexpected crises will derail the entire agenda. Think of mid-September 2001 for an extreme example.
  • Nobody can say for sure how the judiciary will respond, and how that might reshape the majority's governance.

Once in power, the majority will decide and revamp its own agenda on a continuing basis, and it may or may not resemble any previous pledge. Furthermore, voters will approve or reject it based upon its ongoing content -- not whether it conforms with a campaign promise.

I mean what I write: I don't believe significant numbers of voters really care whether an elected representative does what he said he would do; they care that he does what they (now) want him to do! On some occasions, voters may actually demand that an earlier pledge be broken; think of those hapless Democrats elected in 2008 on a pro-ObamaCare platform, who today feel compelled to run away from the very package for which they voted, threatened by the very constituents who were for it before they were against it!

For that matter, think of Barack H. Obama in the 2008 elections: The only people who cared that he broke his solemn oath to accept public funding -- were those who never had any intention of voting for him in the first place. His supporters didn't give a rat's badonkadonk.

In any event, earlier pledges are far less important than what the majority does in office. Case in point: Tea Partiers will be furious if the new GOP majority doesn't cut the budget significantly below its level in November 2008; but their anger will be just as great given the Pledge to America -- which only promises a cutback to the last George W. Bush budget, which in this scenario the GOP fulfills -- as they would have been had the GOP promised to cut back to, say, the 2004 budget, then broken that promise.

The anger is the same; they would just use different words to describe it... "fiscal irresponsibility" in the first scenario, "a broken pledge" in the second.

As a campaign tactic, I think the Pledge works just fine. It aligns the GOP with the midpoint on the anger scale... going not as far as Tea Partiers would want but probably further than many Independents and "moderate" Democrats (Jim Webb, e.g.) prefer.

(I called pledges "useful distractions" above; they're useful because they can help boot Democrats out of office; they're distractions because they discombobulate the multitudinous liberal talking heads, since a good pledge must be answered by some handwaving -- time those master debaters could have better spent going on the attack instead of playing defense.)

As far as governing, the test will be who gets the chairmanships of which committees, and what they do once ensconced in their new chairs. We need to see some significant shakeups in the current heirarchy to be reassured it's not just business as usual. If every financial, banking, taxing, and spending committee chairmanship slides automatically to the ranking Republican, and if the current Republican leadership moves seamlessly from minority to majority, then we'll know that the tin-ear GOP has done it again -- and 2012 may become another 2006.

But if a few ranking old toots on critical committees find themselves passed over in favor of younger, more dynamic, and more economically conservative members, we should be optimistic that Republicans have finally learnt their lesson.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 23, 2010, at the time of 11:21 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

My major beef with this Pledge... it's a bad sign when the Party who's big mandate is to make government smaller comes out with a 22 page Pledge.

Brevity is the soul of wit... also I submit to you, of wisdom. 22 pages speaks to their ability to do the big job at hand. Ever hear of a top 10?!?

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2010 5:56 AM

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