This week GOP leadership in the House of Representatives produced a 21-page document they call the Pledge to America. I downloaded the document and took the time to read through it. This move is obviously politically motivated. (All concerted actions by either party are politically motivated.) Predictably, the document is full of patriotic euphemisms, political rhetoric, and vague statements. But it does commit its authors to a set of beliefs and even some specific legislative actions.
As you’d expect, Democratic critics immediately denounced the entire document with a bunch of their own vague, evasive rhetoric. But of more interest and significance, a number of right-wing political pundits jumped all over the pledge wondering why Republicans would want to pigeon-hole themselves into specific future direction. Their logic is that by focusing on what the Democrats are doing wrong (in the economy, border security, foreign policy, and ignoring voters) they will win seats in the coming congressional elections. If Republicans state what they will do, then the Democrats will be able to shift the focus away from their own deficiencies and simply rip holes in the Republican strategy, maybe preserving seats in the process.
Probably no other institution in our society thrives so intensely on blame as our two-party political system. By the time John Adams faced off with Thomas Jefferson in the first Presidential campaign, political strategists began to realize that blaming the other party for national problems was the key to winning votes.
This current GOP strategy of a “Pledge to America” may, or may not, be smart political theory. Its framers obviously believe it will garner favor with voters as did the Republican “Contract with America” a generation ago. But conventional political advisors worry that it takes on accountability and surrenders their attack opportunity. This is an interesting deviation from the norm. Blame (which is the tried and true strategy) is an abdication of responsibility. This pledge lays out in writing, for all to see, the GOP commitments. It will be tough to deny these statements two years from now if they are not achieved, or if they produce poor results.
Whether you consider yourself a liberal or conservative, I think this sort of pledge is exactly what we need from any party. It gives us, the voters, a specification of what we can expect from that party. We get to evaluate those promises, then vote the direction we believe will take us in the right direction – sort of like when you compare bids on two different contractors to re-do your bathroom. We also get a subsequent basis for accountability two years down the road. Did we get what we paid for? Would we hire them again?
Our democracy has survived for over 200 years with the blame game being the dominant political mantra. So, maybe it will survive another 200 years using the same techniques. But wouldn’t you sooner evaluate a few written proposals than watch months of grotesque, mud-slinging, attack ads on television?