What’s Left: The Pledge of Ambivalence


On Thursday, the GOP held a conference in a quintessential lumber mill just miles away from Capitol Hill, in which they unveiled their talking points for the coming election. Called the “Pledge to America,” the document bills itself as a “new governing agenda based on the priorities of our nation, the principles we stand for and America’s founding values” according to its preamble. Though the sentimental language hearkening back to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is enough to get any conservative off, the lack of specificity due to the Republican Party’s inability to reconcile the Tea Party activists, GOP establishment and independents leaves only a broad embodiment of values intermixed with jabs at Obama and ridiculous cowboy imagery. The Pledge to America underlines the identity crisis GOP officials are faced with, and foreshadows the infighting we can come to expect if conservatives retake Congress in November.

The manifesto itself is broken into six grievances: Jobs, Spending, Healthcare, Congress, Defense and Checks and Balances. Each section contains “What We Are Up Against” which chronicles GOP complaints against Obama and “Our Plan” (decidedly shorter than the previous section) which makes broad, overarching statements on how we can fix America’s problems with “common sense reforms” and return to our “founding values.” The grievances are divided up by large pictures of conservative icons such as national landmarks, senators pretending to work alongside the common man and cowboy hats.

The first category, boldly titled “A Plan to Create Jobs, End Economic Uncertainty and Make America More Competitive” barely lives up to its name. The “Plan” literally consists of one page of text. Sure, there is plenty of griping about Obama’s perceived fiscal irresponsibility, in fact, double the length of the actual “plan.” However, the actual plan is not so surprisingly short on details; ideas include “reining in the red tape factory” and the political mainstay of cutting taxes

(particularly extending the Bush-Era tax cuts).

These tax cuts are incongruous with the GOP’s next order of business, to “Put Government on a Path to a Balanced Budget and Pay Down the Debt.” As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman estimated, “the Bush tax cuts would add another $3.7 trillion to the debt … and [according to the ‘Pledge to America’] Social Security, Medicare and the defense budget are off limits [to cut], so what’s left?” Indeed Krugman makes a very valid point: excluding the three programs that the GOP cannot touch, what does GOP suggest cutting? One can only hope it doesn’t imply something disastrous like Reagan’s failed attempt to eliminate the Department of Education. In the actual document, aside from repealing the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), the GOP’s talk of cuts is limited to its talk of the “YouCut initiative to combat the permissive culture of runaway spending in Congress.” This initiative’s website offers the exact same language as the pledge, but few specifics. The ambiguity is synonymous to Richard Nixon’s platform in 1968, which can be summarized as, “I have a secret plan to end the Vietnam War. Make me president and I’ll tell you.”

The concessions made to the conservative activists are evident, yet not far-reaching enough to create a coalition. GOP leaders promise to “require each bill moving through Congress to include a clause citing the specific constitutional authority upon which the bill is justified” (which sounds rather hypocritical in light of Republican criticism over the length of bills) and “change the way Congress works once and for all, so that the will of the people can be heard.” However, these superficial concessions were not even enough to avoid backlash from the Tea Party. Erick Erickson, founder of the Tea Party blog Redstate.com lambasted the Pledge. “These 21 pages tell you lots of things,” said Erikson. “Some contradictory things, but mostly this: it is a series 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.”

This “Pledge to Nowhere,” as conservative bloggers have dubbed it, marks a low point for the Republican Party’s clout. Snubbed by both sides of the aisle, the Pledge comes across as broad, ineffective and frivolous: not qualities of a party who looks to quell infighting and shed its “party of no” image. As Tea Party candidates surge above establishment Republicans as we move toward the November election, and the GOP is left wondering what went wrong, they need only look back at this weak effort to understand why.