Posted by: Jeff | September 23, 2010

When GOP Principles Become Policy

Hat Tip: Amin

Democrats and progressives, facing mounting criticism from the Right, have long asked conservatives to communicate exactly what their policies would look like as public policy.  If the Republicans win back both houses of Congress, in other words, what will they do?  Republican platitudes (Liberty, Fiscal Responsibility, and Security) sound great in principle, but until now, the details of how those will translate into government policy have been sparse.

Now that the Republican Party’s “Pledge to America” has surfaced, those Republican policies don’t  sound nearly so popular as the principles that supposedly inspire them.  Ezra Klein has read the GOP platform for this coming congressional cycle, and he isn’t at all impressed:

“America is more than a country,” begins the GOP’s ‘Pledge to America.’ America, it turns out, is an “idea,” an “inspiration,” and a “belief.” And the GOP wants to govern it.

Their policy agenda is detailed and specific — a decision they will almost certainly come to regret. Because when you get past the adjectives and soaring language, the talk of inalienable rights and constitutional guarantees, you’re left with a set of hard promises that will increase the deficit by trillions of dollars, take health-care insurance away from tens of millions of people, create a level of policy uncertainty businesses have never previously known, and suck demand out of an economy that’s already got too little of it.

You’re also left with a difficult question: What, exactly, does the Republican Party believe? The document speaks constantly and eloquently of the dangers of debt — but offers a raft of proposals that would sharply increase it. It says, in one paragraph, that the Republican Party will commit itself to “greater liberty” and then, in the next, that it will protect “traditional marriage.” It says that “small business must have certainty that the rules won’t change every few months” and then promises to change all the rules that the Obama administration has passed in recent months. It is a document with a clear theory of what has gone wrong — debt, policy uncertainty, and too much government — and a solid promise to make most of it worse.

A lot has been made of the gap between the generic Republican ballot and the generic Democratic ballot in the upcoming November elections.  It is true that the Democrats face a fairly serious enthusiasm gap, and that Republicans are poised to make significant political inroads in Congressional and local elections nationwide.  However, I think the Republican Party is in big trouble.  This Pledge is wildly inconsistent with stated principles and values – particularly within the Tea Party movement that has swung mainstream Republican politicians to the right in recent months.  There is no cohesive movement beyond platitudes.  That may be enough to win this November, but will it be enough to govern?

I am highly skeptical on this point.  The Republicans may well win both Houses of Congress – but when a cohesive policy platform fails to congeal – or, perhaps worse, is announced and fails to capture populist approval even within the conservative movement – what then?  2012 could yet shape up to be a banner year for Democrats – particularly if Republicans propose but fail to give teeth to controversial platforms like Constitutional amendment, spending freezes, health care reform repeal, and further fiscal irresponsibility.

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