A pledge to (repeal) America
Is the Republican plan really a plan at all?
The House Republican Caucus
will unveil its “A Pledge to America” this morning, a governing plan that echoes the “Contract with America” Newt Gingrich (and current minority leader John Boehner) used in 1994 to help sweep Republicans into the House majority. The final version of the pledge is already available, as is a video of the preamble narrated by someone who sounds like the “Frontline” guy.
There are at least two elements of “A Pledge to America” that should interest TPP readers.
The first is that the document is yet another example of the Republican devotion to philosophical language. Republicans have always been more eager than Democrats to talk about and enumerate the values and principles that underlie their governing vision. Just check out the preamble:
America is more than a country.
America is an idea – an idea that free people can govern themselves, that government’s powers are derived from the consent of the governed, that each of us is endowed by their Creator with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. America is the belief that any man or woman can – given economic, political, and religious liberty – advance themselves, their families, and the common good.
America is an inspiration to those who yearn to be free and have the ability and the dignity to determine their own destiny.
Whenever the agenda of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to institute a new governing agenda and set a different course.
These first principles were proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, enshrined in the Constitution, and have endured through hard sacrifice and commitment by generations
In a self-governing society, the only bulwark against the power of the state is the consent of the governed, and regarding the policies of the current government, the governed do not consent.
An unchecked executive, a compliant legislature, and an overreaching judiciary have combined to thwart the will of the people and overturn their votes and their values, striking down longstanding laws and institutions and scorning the deepest beliefs of the American people.
An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates, and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many.
When’s the last time you heard a Democrat talk like that?
Part of this is a political calculation. Republicans have believed since at least the 70s that if they told the right story about American values, they could more win more votes than they would through abstruse, wonkish debates about policy.
In many ways, the gambit has worked, although this election will be a big test. What will convince an unhappy electorate? A clear plan for economic recovery and growth, or a guaranteed change of perspective? It’s hard to say.
Putting its overtly philosophical bearings aside, another curious part of “A Pledge to America” is its devotion of an entire plank of the Republican plan to repealing health care. There are six chapters, most about things like controlling spending or reforming government. But one entire chapter is called “A Plan to Repeal and Replace the Government Takeover of Health Care.”
Again, there’s a lot of politicking going on here. In addition to their basic opposition to health care reform, it’s pretty clear that Republican polling has found “government takeover of health care” to be one of the most damaging attacks not just on the health care reform bill, but on Democrats in general.
But there’s a deeper question here about whether it’s right to govern by repeal. On the one hand, it would be a perfect example of democracy in action. If voters are unhappy with the actions of their elected representatives, they should, in theory, be able to vote them out and see unfavorable policies reversed.
On the other hand, we should be practically worried about a system of government that gives politicians incentives to foster public caprice. Only today are many of the health care reforms going to come into effect. While reversal should always be a viable course in a democracy, there’s a good argument for allowing laws to be tried and tested before they are rejected.
This is probably one of the hardest cases for our government to confront. A law that is not on its face wholly offensive; the high-tide of campaign silly season; a confused and angry population. Is now the moment to soberly choose “repeal” (not just of health care, but of anything)?
It all depends on how you look at it.
Imaged used under a Creative Commons attribution license from Flickr user skl8em.