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Sensing victory this fall, the Republicans have released a Pledge to America in imitation of the Contract With America that helped trigger the 1994 congressional landslide. Although Obama’s unpopularity is such that a blind and flatulent wombat with a criminal record could probably win election so long as it was running as a Republican, the Republican leadership clearly wants to set the stage for claiming some sort of mandate should they take control of both the House and Senate, as appears likely.
But the mandate they are seeking is not exactly the one that the nation is demanding. Consider what they claim to be their first and most urgent domestic priority, which presumably is not their most urgent priority or it would not require the disclaimer. Is it addressing the staggering amount of public debt owed by the U.S. government? Is it dealing with the crippling $40 trillion in private debt that has millions of homes underwater on their mortgages? Is it combating the mass invasion of Central and South Americans that has altered the very sociopolitical structure of the nation?
No. What is on offer is nothing more than a promise for even more federal micromanagement of the economy that we witnessed during the course of the Bush and Obama administrations. Only this time, they’re going to do it right! “A plan to create jobs, end economic uncertainty and make America more competitive must be the first and most urgent domestic priority of our government.” In other words, the Republican leadership is still clinging to the hoary old Keynesian myth that the government can somehow improve the operation of the economy through its actions.
And although they vow to stop out-of-control spending and reduce the size of government, the fact that they already see fit to carve out “common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans and our troops” means that virtually nothing is going to change. Reducing spending by $100 billion per year may sound significant, but only reduces the federal budget from $3.55 trillion to $3.45 trillion. Since revenues were $2.38 trillion in 2010, this promised spending reduction will still leave taxpayers facing a deficit of $1.07 trillion. Republicans would have to cut spending by more than 10 times the promised amount to even begin eliminating the growth of the public debt.
The unfortunate fact is that cutting “government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels” simply isn’t enough. It won’t suffice to fix the problem because it was the “pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels” of government spending that caused the problem to occur in the first place. The depression – and it is a depression, the belated declaration of the Business Cycle Dating Committee that the recession ended more than a year ago notwithstanding – is not the result of recent bad policies, but of fundamental structural flaws with the financial system and the economy.
Suspicious tea-party members are probably correct to doubt the genuine commitment of Republican politicians to the principles laid out in the pledge. After all, it didn’t take long for Gingrich and the 1994 congressional Republicans to throw out the contract and cower before the strategic triangulation of Bill Clinton. No one who remembers all of the Republican supporters of term limits who staunchly refused to leave office once their promised number of terms was up is likely to put any trust in the pledges of politicians seeking office.
The bigger problem is that the pledge is ideologically incoherent. Far too many Republicans and conservatives fail to understand that small government at home is not at all compatible with forcibly bringing democracy to various countries around the world through the mechanism of the United States military forces. Their spending pledges become meaningless when at the same time they are promising to advance “the cause of freedom and democracy around the world” and “will work to ensure
the government aggressively and effectively implements the sanctions” on Iran.
In summary, the pledge is ineffective and incoherent, exhibiting a limited vision that does not rise to the level of the present challenges. It may serve some purely political purpose, but it also indicates that the sort of Republicans that support it are not going to be the small-government revolutionaries that many of the tea-party members are hoping to elect in November. The neoconservative elements aside, it is not an awful statement of principle; it is merely a mostly irrelevant one.