An Initial Reaction to the “Pledge to America”

Some thoughts on the Pledge.

Doug Mataconis has already provided a discussion of some of the specifics of the GOP’s “Pledge to America” so I will just address some general issues.

1.  Better than nothing… On one level it is better than nothing, insofar as to this point there has been no unified message from the Republicans.  At least this creates some basis for discussion.

2.  …but only barely. However, it is only just barely better than nothing.  The Pledge mostly contains a warmed-over set of leftover talking points, some of which are quite old (tax cuts) and some are of recent vintage (repeal health care reform).

3.  Hardly Bold or Innovative. I would take the whole affair far more seriously if the Pledge contained even the outline of a real plan to deal with the country’s structural fiscal problems.  Caps on spending, especially ones that seem to partially exclude security-based spending, always sound good, but aren’t a solution to the problem (not by a long shot).  I am willing to accept the notion that one has to start somewhere, but this is nibbling around the edges.  This pledge does not seriously address the major issue facing the country.

4. A Campaign Pamphlet. To be honest, this document is designed to make GOP base voters happy, which is fine as far as that goes.  It is, after all, a campaign pamphlet (granted, a long one).  It is not, however, a real blueprint for policy.  Instead it amounts to pledges for themes popular with the base:   tax cuts, vague spending cuts, repeal of health care reform, and symbolic (not to mention bogus) promises to read bills and ensure their constitutionality (see Doug’s post on those).

5.  Such Documents aren’t Worth Much. Like party platforms, the exact usefulness of documents like this is limited.  They cannot bind the future actions of members of Congress.  Further, they are tailored to be vague.

6.  Unoriginal. I know that the GOP wants to have a repeat of 1994 (with good reason).  However, simply reanimating a gimmick from sixteen years ago is symbolic, I would argue, of the current lack of creativity of the contemporary GOP.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, US Politics, ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. I think #6 hits the nail on the head. There’s this myth among Republicans that the Contract with America is what won them the majority in 1994. In reality, as the link I posted last night seems to show, the CwA seemed to play little role in most people’s votes that year since a majority of them hadn’t even heard of it.

    1994 was a perfect storm that combined:

    1. A bad first 18 months for a President who was only elected with a pluarlity of the popular vote, capped off by the complete failure of the Administration’s centerpiece health care plan only two months before Election Day.

    2. A series of scandals involving House Democrats culminating in the House Post Office and Bank scandals, and the ultimate conviction of such House stalwarts as Dan Rostenkowski.

    3. An assault weapons ban that galvanized a vocal opposition group


    4. The fact that the Perot voters either stayed home, or voted Republican in 94.


  2. tom p says:

    “Better than nothing…”

    What are you talking about Steve? It is nothing,

  3. tom p says:

    Oooooops… Wait a minute, it is a joke.

  4. sam says:

    Any Republican “Pledge to America” that does not contain the name “Ryan” throughout is only good for the bottom of birdcages.

  5. John Doe says:

    I find a lot appealing in small government, reducing regulation, harnessing the free market, etc. But I never see much in the way of serious proposals by the Republicans (or more generally those on the right) to do much, especially on what I see as the really worrying issues. For example, what are they going to do to prevent the financial crisis from happening again? What are they going to do about healthcare costs? The status quo doesn’t seem to have worked that well.
    Instead, all I get is a bunch of noise about Obama’s birth certificate, ACORN, beheadings in the desert, outrage of the day, etc.
    Yes, there are a few serious Republicans. But they get completely drowned out by Beck, Palin, Breitbart, etc.

  6. Steve Plunk says:

    I can’t help but think it came out too late, it’s too complex, and it isn’t bold enough.  It won’t hurt Republicans but it’s not enough to help them.  Not that they needed any help.

  7. steve says:

    The Pledge does not even mention Medicare/Medicaid spending. The increasing debt and increasing size of government comes mostly from these two entities. Neglecting to even mention these makes this an election guide, not a plan. (I would heartily recommend people read it. Lots of magical thinking. Also odd that they would accuse this administration of too much executive power when the prior one was the advocate for the strong unitary executive theory.)

  8. Franklin says:

    Well it’s a “pledge” from politicians, which is worth exactly what it is always worth.
    While in my naive days I used to think Republicans were fiscally responsible, there does need to be *some* pressure from *somebody* to get a handle on our budget woes.  So I guess ‘better than nothing’ is accurate.

  9. floyd says:

    It is clear that nothing done by those opposing the Democrat party would find approval here. Something must be done or we will be facing unprecedented tyranny which is already well underway.  Even if the electorate chooses the course, tyranny of the majority has long been seen as the enemy of liberty… I.E. the “civil rights movement”.

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    Ignore whether what’s being proposed is politically possible.  Reducing the deficit while reducing taxes, leaving mandatory spending alone, and freezing discretionary spending other than defense spending isn’t mathematically possible.

  11. Reducing the deficit while reducing taxes, leaving mandatory spending alone, and freezing discretionary spending other than defense spending isn’t mathematically possible.

    And there you go.

  12. mannning says:

    Pledges, I agree, are not worth much. One merely has to look at Obama’s pre-election rhetoric to validate that proposition, not that I want to go into them here! However, all honest efforts begin with some ideas and general goals, and are then fleshed out in subsequent stages. Many of the Republican ideas have been codified in bills that could never be passed under the current situation, but they do exist, and will undoubtedly be brought out as examples of what they are ready to initiate. So, I believe that there is a second tier of more definitive Republican legislation that underpins the Pledge to America.  This is a volume of work that is not very practical to present all at once, I think, and to expose all of the details now is to give the opposition far too many targets to run away with. 

    I am seeing an attitude here on this site that is far more critical than helpful to the Republican cause. How about publishing your own Pledge or list of objectives for a Republican Congress, perhaps in the form of an open letter to the Republican leadership?  It is far easier to criticize than to create such a document. A succinct compilation of best thoughts now would indeed be helpful, don’t you agree?

  13. Gerry W. says:

    How about publishing your own Pledge

    1. Fix the antitrust laws that Reagan relaxed. Monopolies and consolidations destroyed jobs.
    2. Invest in your country: That is energy independence for security and jobs. Also a new air traffic control system that will save 12% on fuel. The savings to the airlines can go to build new aircraft. A high speed internet system. Perhaps high speed rail.
    3. Invest in your people: That is mandatory vocational training. We live in a globalized world and you can no longer rely on factories. We have to be an educated society.
    4. Invest in the future: Federal research grants to be given to universities and business to bring out new technologies. Today there are no new jobs to go to for those unemployed. You need new areas of growth. No playing games with embryonic stem cell research.
    5. Consider an “American job elimination tax” on companies that move out of the country. These companies do not pay middle class wages, healthcare, pensions, social security, or city and state taxes.
    6. Get away from failed ideology. We saw it for 8 years. Tax cuts was used as an ideology. It did not prevent recessions. And did not create prosperity. You still have to solve problems. Ideology does not solve problems.
    7. Supporting small business sounds nice and it is heard in Washington, but it does not work in my community as the big business left. That means you cannot have small business as people lost their jobs. Besides, small business will never pay what big business paid in wages.
    8. We are losing the middle class. We cannot compete with 2 billion cheap laborers in the world that want our jobs. There are not enough jobs to go around. Competition is good, but it can be harmful also. All we are doing in this country is build the same business environment so that we can knock the other guy out. A person loses his job and has no place to go to. And the reason is that we did not invest in our country, in our people, and in the future.
    9. Have commissions to cut government spending. It seems to be the only approach to doing this. Obviously, one side or the other will complain, but something has to be done now.
    10. Government appointed jobs and organizations need to be slimmed down. Every 50 to 60 years we need to go through this. There are too many secretaries, deputy-secretaries, under-secretaries, and under-under-secretaries. Information gets loss through the process and government becomes ineffective. The last time this was done was with the Hoover Commission in the late 40’s.
    11. Pour money into new drugs and preliminary medical science. Drugs are becoming less resistant to diseases. And potential super bugs are coming.
    12. Fix the infrastructure. It is the reflection of our country and to the rest of the world.
    13. And if we have not kept up with it, every school should have physical education. Also wash your hands when you come home to prevent viruses and less trips to the doctor. And as we see so often, stop throwing pop cans, etc. outside the car.
    14. We need to slow down urban sprawl. Inner cities are being abandoned. As people leave there is no money left to support the inner city. This maybe controversial to some, but at some point we will have to deal with the problem. Sprawl also takes away from farms and spreads cities out too far in a time when you have empty buildings. We cannot have cities in decay. And cities in decay cannot create jobs and small business.
    15. Create an hour period each school day for freshmen high school students to study any subject for a month (9 months-9 subjects) that they would have not normally have taken. It may be the hardest of subjects in which students would have been afraid in failing like algebra, geometry, calculus, languages, music, or any other subject including learning sports, like golf, football, baseball, or tennis as examples. There are many retired people who would like to teach what they learned in life. There could be a test at the end of the month, but this would only to see if the student learned anything in that subject and would not count against him in his grade average. The point is to have students learn as much as they can on different subjects and to see if they like a certain subject that they did not anticipate.
    16.  And finally, I don’t think our electoral political system works anymore. Every candidate is bought off and it takes huge amounts of money to run a campaign. I would suggest a management team or a turn around specialist to be a president for a couple of years. And there would be a board of directors who he answers to and for the middle class. The parties are riddled with failed ideologies. We can do better that what we have.
    17. One final point. I have tried to think of everything to preserve the middle class. I am afraid that the elites and the republicans and the economists will have their way, and their way to create jobs is to have you do away with the minimum wage and and all wages and pay people a dollar to five dollars an hour. The forces of a potential 2 billion cheap laborers is too powerful for any economic response on our part. Only then will we have an equilibrium capable of producing jobs in our country.
    So when Carlos Gutierrez, former Bush Commerce Secretary, say that “dynamics have not changed.” He is saying that it is okay for our wages come down to cheap labor.
    When Veronique De Rugy, economist from George Mason Univ., on C-span answers a caller and says it is okay for our jobs to leave the country and that we have Wal Mart jobs to go to, then we know that cheap labor will win.
    Now, this is the thinking with all the think tanks in Washington. And in the end we will have a nation of rich and poor. And the one world order will have won.

  14. Herb says:

    “I am seeing an attitude here on this site that is far more critical than helpful to the Republican cause. ”

    Yeah, that’s what my uncle told me about the Broncos when I criticized Josh McDaniels for putting Tebow into a couple gimmicky Wildcat plays in week 1. “You’re a fairweather fan,” he cried.

    No, I said, I love the Broncos. I want them to win games. I want them to succeed. Which is why I criticize them when they do stupid things.

    I suppose I could have cheered ever more loudly as Tebow threw that interception, but alas that wouldn’t have helped either…

  15. Gerry W. says:

    The problem with the republicans is that they don’t want government to do anything. So all they do is change tax policy, give tax cuts, and say they will cut spending. This is laissez-faire in the sense that they will do nothing more. And in my book it does not work. You have to manage the problems. But when I say that, then you get a backlash of having some Soviet or Marxist control of the people, and that is not the case. Anyway, this is typical of what republicans have been saying. Nothing new, and it does not address the middle class. Hence, more rich and more poor.

  16. Brummagem Joe says:

    .” One merely has to look at Obama’s pre-election rhetoric to validate that proposition, not that I want to go into them here!”

    Er you did go there! And he’s actually done most of the things he pledged to do like winding down Iraq, and passing equal pay, healthcare and financial reform legislation. I thought that was why you were unhappy with him?

  17. Brummagem Joe says:

    As just about everyone realizes, including the most extreme conservatives like Erickson, this is a load of bs. It’s going to have little to no impact on the campaign, and such impact as it will have is likely to be negative for the Republicans because it gives the Dems a totally ridiculous caricature to shoot at.   

  18. mannning says:


    OK, so what would you come up with? Something else totally rediculous? Gerry made the effort, and his list has some great points. With perhaps ten contributions from ten good people, a synthesis might show considerable agreement and some originality, without raising the hackles of constitutionalists. Sniping simply doesn’t cut it.

  19. steve says:

    “Pledges, I agree, are not worth much. One merely has to look at Obama’s pre-election rhetoric to validate that proposition, not that I want to go into them here! However, all honest efforts begin with some ideas and general goals, and are then fleshed out in subsequent stages”

    I agree. How then, could they not even mention that Medicare/Medicaid spending is the main problem that is increasing government size and the debt. That alone indicates this was not an honest effort.


  20. tom p says:

    “Better than nothing…”
    What are you talking about Steve? It is nothing,


    “Oooooops… Wait a minute, it is a joke.”

    Why do I feel the need to repeat myself?

    “OK, so what would you come up with?”

    Manning, here is an example: LET THE BUSH TAX CUTS DIE THE DEATH THEY SO RICHLY DESERVE!!!!!    

    The question is, do you want to end the deficits, or don’t you?

  21. mannning says:

    Managing entitlements is absolutely key to digging ourselves out of this financial mess we are in. That the subject was omitted from the PtA speaks of one of several possibilities: 1) sheer incompetence; 2) fear of saying anything explosive at this time regarding third rail items; and perhaps 3) a deliberate omission as a tactical debate ploy (which seems to be too diabolical). I believe (2) is the right interpretation. I speculate that they are pulling their punches at this time, perhaps waiting for a specific opportunity in mid to late October to make a more thorough attack on the question, thus leaving little time for an effective response.

  22. @Manning:  my guess, based on long-term behavior, is that they will continue to ignore it and pretend like tax cuts and spending caps will heal all wounds.

  23. mannning says:

    Well, wasn’t it Bush that spent his second term’s first year trying to get something moving on Social Security? There was a lot of talk but no action of any consequence, as I remember it. No one wants to address the elephant in the room–out of control entitlements. Put them off limits and we have an impossible problem to solve.

  24. wr says:

    Or we could just collect payroll tax on all income, instead of stopping arouind $100,000. That would take care of SS’s problems in a heartbeat.