Monday, September 27, 2010

Republican Agenda: A Stinker

It’s fairly obvious the Republican Pledge hasn’t excited anyone. The candidates have given it lukewarm support at best, typically calling it “a good start,” and then never mentioning it again. The public pretty much ignored it. Conservative bloggers picked out a couple acceptable pieces and shook their heads at the rest and the missed opportunity. I’m feeling less charitable. I see it as sad confirmation that the Republican leadership doesn’t get it, and I see them blowing a greater historic opportunity than was handed Obama in 2008.

Here’s the good as I see it: The existence of this document shows that the Republican leadership finally understands that being the party of “Not-Obama” won’t help them once they get into leadership.

Now let’s talk about the bad:

• It’s 21 pages long. The public won’t read a document this long, you can’t incorporate it into a political message, and this demonstrates a disorganized mind that doesn’t know how to explain what it believes. Moreover, it’s oddly “talky” at times, like a drunk arguing with himself.

• The more you need to tell people that your plan is “new” and “different,” the less likely that is to be true, and saying this as often as the Pledge does sounds paranoid.

• It’s wonkish. It’s long on jargon and insider ideas and short of anything the public can relate to. When a “Pledge” starts providing specific examples of how taxes affect a family of four and it credits Deloitte Tax LLP for the example, you know the author has no idea what the purpose of a pledge should be. This pledge reads like an IRS instruction manual.

• Oh look, meaningless charts.

• It mistakes minutia for significance. For example, they’re going to rein in the “Red Tape Factory” and put an end to “the 191 regulations” that cost employers $100 million a year! Why, that’s almost 0.000007% of the American economy! Perhaps they meant "reign in"?

• They’re going to cancel the stimulus. Great. But then they say they want to cut discretionary spending to 2008. Of course, 2008 is the year the government got into the “spend like a drunken sailor” business. They should have picked 2006 if they’re serious.

Moreover, they’re excluding entitlements and defense spending from these cuts, making this promise entirely meaningless. Indeed, they’re talking about saving all of $100 billion. . . less than 0.3% of the budget. Aim high my friends.

• They continue tinkering with the tax code. For example, they propose giving a 20% tax “deduction on income” for small businesses. That’s nice, but what about reforming the system across the board rather than carving out more confusion?

• Too much of it lacks specifics. They’re going to stop “job-killing taxes,” I guess the rest are safe.

• They want to end government control over Fannie and Freddie. . . which means what exactly? Are they going to end the laws that made lenders give out bad loans too or are we just going to cut these mega-slush funds free from oversight? How about eliminating them instead?

• They’re going to root out waste and duplication in government. . . a standard, meaningless promise that usually costs taxpayers more than it saves.

• They plan to put "hard caps" on discretionary spending, which sounds great except those caps are routinely and bipartisanly raised.

• They’re going to cut the Congressional budget, which sound great but is like promising to drink one less glass of water when your house is flooded.

• They promise to take "the long term view" on entitlements, a promise they immediately break by not mentioning entitlements again except to exclude them from cuts.

• In health care, they promise to repeal ObamaCare, which is good. They will allow insurers to sell across state lines, reform medical malpractice laws and expand HSA accounts, all of which I like if the details match -- there are no details. They promise to prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion, which is about time. Then they promise to “use common sense to strengthen the doctor patient relationship.” That’s right, you will now get a free dinner for two with your doctor at the federal restaurant of your choice. Oh, and they’re going to improve your marriage by fiat and make your kids smarter and less ugly. Would someone serious about reform make this kind of nonsense promise?

• The entire plan to reform Congress is inside baseball and won’t change a thing. I’ve addressed it here: LINK.

• Their foreign policy stuff is awful. They’re going “to keep terrorists out of America.” Thank God, I thought they were going to issue invites. Actually, this cryptic statement is about keeping Gitmo open, which hasn’t been an issue since Obama decided to ignore his promise to close it. They’re opposed to foreign terrorists having “Miranda rights,” another issue that went away when the Democrats decided that fighting a war is harder than bashing Bush. They favor tough sanctions on Iran, which of course don’t work, and parroting Obama’s campaign plan is pretty ridiculous. They also plan to secure the border and enforce immigration laws. . . believe it when you see it.
Let’s be honest, this Pledge stinks. It lacks vision. . . actually, that’s not quite right: its vision is “let’s turn the clock back to 2008.” It will do nothing to stimulate the economy, free up our economy, encourage hiring or investing, cut the growth of government, rein in the expansion of government, improve health care, correct our mistaken foreign policy, bring energy independence, improve education, or anything else.

This document reads like someone focus-group tested every idea of the last 10 years and then picked all of those that scored "somewhat positive/indifferent." It’s written by people who don’t understand politics or governing, and its authors delude themselves if they think it will address voters' concerns or change anything except the direction of the public's anger.

Sorry, no sale.


Joel Farnham said...


It sounds like the Republicans got the same type of people who wrote Obamacare to write this agenda crap.

All they needed was five things.

Repeal Obamacare, cut spending, cut regulations, extend the Bush Tax cuts indefinately, and protect the borders.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I couldn't agree more. The old adage, Keep It Simple Stupid has never been more true than in politics. This thing is confused, talky, a strange mix of too detailed and not detailed enough, and crawling with meaningless fluff. And all of this was unnecessary.

What you've listed would have made a better statement of principles or pledge than this thing.

I've done both a pledge/statement of principles and an agenda on this site and both are much more clear in terms of what I would stand for and what I would hope to implement than this, and both are long-term focused, i.e. focused on how I would run a government today, tomorrow and in the future. This document looks like something they might implement in 2011, but after that there's nothing.

It's awful, and it shows a poor thought process/belief system.

Tennessee Jed said...

Are you going to sit out the election? Hopefully not, of course.

I do share your frustration. I don't know whether they actually don't get it or whether they don't trust it. Either way, the result is the same. I know there are political risks involved. Some of the entitlements are quite popular, even with Republicans. But if they can't put together a plan which acts significantly on reducing the deficit, they will be at the mercy of handing the car keys back again.

Ponderosa said...

Even Peggy Noonan is starting to get it:

"Democrats on the Hill or in the White House try to pull it up to 30 [ed - max of 36], Republicans try to pull it back to 25. A deal is struck at 28. Washington Republicans call it victory: "Hey, it coulda been 29!" But regular conservative-minded or Republican voters see yet another loss. They could live with 18. They'd like eight. Instead it's 28."

The GOP "guys with cool titles" [otherwise known as the leadership] will eventually wake up - because this time the TP exists.

At least the Prez called it "irresponsible" - high praise indeed.

Let's play "Who is more tone deaf!"

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, No, I'll vote for the Republicans. First, we need to stop Obama and Pelosi. Secondly, I don't dislike what they're planning, it's just a totally wasted opportunity. Third, I think their failure will probably be a needed step on the way to purging the party leadership of coward, idiots and hereditary peers, to open the door for people who understand politics and aren't afraid to be political.

There are always risks with saying what you believe, but it you aren't willing to do it, then you shouldn't be politics. In this case, that cowardice has translated into a damping down of popular support, it will harm them if they try to do anything bold, and it's caused a huge missed opportunity.

Right now they could have introduced even simple unpopular ideas (like moving the retirement age back to 70, or maybe even partial privatization) with little complaint because people currently understand the problem and are willing to accept solutions even if it affects a program they like. But after a year of mucking around, they will have lost the public's trust.

Moreover, the worst thing that could happen would be partial success, where the danger to the country really hasn't passed, but the public begins to think that it has. That's when people start worrying about protecting popular programs again and when the momentum for reform vanishes.

Basically, these guys have picked the worst time to be cowardly and short-sighted.

AndrewPrice said...

Ponderosa, I completely support the party and I thank the leadership for finally realizing that they need to stand up to Obama. But I have no faith in their leadership, and this pledge really highlights the problems to me.

I think they've learned not to play the Noonan game of splitting the difference and calling it a victory, but they don't grasp that governing requires them to put forward an agenda that advances our idea... using Noonan's example, a -10 agenda.

This document reads to me like they want to erase the Obama years and move us right back to 2008 rather than moving us forward to a "conservative 2011 and beyond."

And the problem with 2008 is that this was the height of the big government Bush years. This would be like Reagan saying "I want to undo the Carter years and return to the Nixon/Johnson era."

Notawonk said...

if they would speak to anyone one of us who reads here regularly, they would have a much better idea of how to lead us out of his mess. i'm sure we would set them straight in, oh, about 5 minutes.

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, Tell me about it! They claim these ideas came from their "listening tour" during the last year, but I honestly don't see how. No regular (i.e. non-political insider) would have told them this is what they want.

Tam said...


AndrewPrice said...

Tam, Tell me about it! I don't even expect them to do anything truly bold, but this is about as little as they could possibly do without admitting: "we don't plan to do anything."

Anonymous said...

Andrew: I've made my displeasure with the "Agenda" known several times in passing over the past few days. But it was good to see a deep analysis of what is wrong with it.

The last thing we needed to be at this point was wordy and tentative. We needed short, concise and meaningful rallying points and instead we got a mish-mosh of weak policy statements and backhanded slaps at the Democrats.

Like you, I will of course be voting for my Republican candidates, but this agenda is unlikely to sway any conservative Democrat or Independent who was sitting on the fence. Lame, to say the most. We needed the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and we got Merrily We Roll Along.

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

Andrew: who do you think actually wrote this stuff? Boehner/Cantor? Steele? A group of nameless faceless aides? You've got to wonder sometimes if we'd be better off with no party "leadership" at all, because I've yet to see any of these guys actually lead.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Well said. You know what this reminds me of? The EU constitution. They wanted something "stirring" and then ended up with a 300 page laundry list of irrelevant points and vagueness.

This should have been the sort of thing you could recite in a 30 second ad. . . "I promise to...." Instead, this would take 40 minutes and it would have to be read by lawyers, with all kinds of disclaimers appearing on the screen as you read it.

It's awful. Very disappointing.

AndrewPrice said...

Pitts, If what I've read is to be believed, the majority of this was written by Boehner himself as a first draft (after the listening tour he and Cantor took last year), and then handed to aids to polish it up. There was also some argument with the other leaders (Pence) last week before it was release about adding things to it (social issues mainly), but I don't think they had a hand in drafting the majority of it.

If I were a company and this had been what my marketing team produced I would fire the whole unit. Seriously.

The problem with not having a leadership is that without a clear ideology to bind the party, that leaves guys like McCain and Graham to find their own ways and still claim they are acting according to the party. Until the party starts to stand for something, you do need a leader to hold them together and get them headed in the same direction.

Now, that said, the new Tea Party people are more ideological, and they have shown that you don't need a leader to get people headed in the same direction. If that spirit can infect the party, then the leaders will become less relevant. In fact, they would be better called "party representatives" at that point than leaders. But until that happens, the leaders are necessary.

Sadly, the ones we have aren't up to the task.

Tennessee Jed said...

RE: Your comments to me-- absolutely!! I realize there will be some limitations in the next couple years, and the real test will be to get a true downsizer who is articulate identified and elect POTUS in 2012. I truly hope the historic opportunity to roll back liberalism is not wasted.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I couldn't agree more. This is a moment where we could set this country right for the next 200 years and undo the last 60 years of rarely checked liberalism and crony capitalism. But we can't do that if our leaders are afraid to seize the opportunity. Let's hope that by 2012, we have leaders who are willing to do that.

Ed said...

I'm not surprised. Nice breakdown.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ed. It isn't very impressive.

CrispyRice said...

Yeah, I guess it was foolish of me to hope that they would just whole-heartedly adopt the Commentarama battle plan you posted awhile back, eh?

It is such a wasted opportunity. Ugh.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, That would have been nice, but I wouldn't have expected it -- not from this crew. I was hoping for something a little more, but I guess that was naive. These are the guys who let Bush lead them into a brick wall and then did nothing to fix the situation. So we should hardly be surprised that they would aim right for the wall again.

Let's hope 2012 afford the same opportunity and someone up to the task.

Tehachapi Tom said...

Large doses of laudanum are needed if you do not want what is happening in this country to drive you crazy.
Both of our political parties are just that "Parties" for the chosen ones.
There is a spark of hope but I fear the dumbed down masses will keep us on this express train we are riding now. Derailing this train is our only hope but I think the Superintendent has the high ball flag out.

AndrewPrice said...

Tom, In normal circumstances I would agree with you, but I think the Tea Party movement isn't normal. They aren't like any other insurgency we've seen over the past 50 years in that they genuinely seem to be a spontaneous popular movement dedicated to seizing power, rather than being your standard interest group that is following some leader who's real goal is to get into the club.

I have hope that the Tea Party people will take over and remake the Republican Party. Beyond that, I couldn't agree with you more -- both parties are nothing more than toys for the ruling class.

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