Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pledge Circus

by Anthony Barnes

Pledge-Junkies -- Isn't it time for Republican pledge junkies to get that monkey off their backs?

"I can quit anytime I want to; famous last words that came back to haunt you." -- recording artist MF Doom

I must admit that at times I've succumbed to the allure of the pledge.  I'd break off a few bucks every now and then to send to my local NPR affiliate hoping against hope that my meager contribution would in some way help shorten the pledge season.   As a kid, I reveled in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at school, especially during outdoor assemblies where you could really belt it out. The compulsion may have been familial -- in a different sort of way.  My mom seemed, at times, to project an intractable urge to relentlessly Pledge our home's wooden coffee and dining tables, apparently hoping they'd wind up with the kind of shine you could see your face in.  Lemon Pledge remains her favorite.   But those pledge-related activities pale in comparison to the pledge-based agenda the GOP seems to believe will help the party clean the Democrats' collective clock in 2012.


For any number of reasons, it seems impossible for anyone who engages in evidence-based analysis to transcend the conclusion that the GOP pledge-a-palooza which has sucked in several of its presidential candidates, is aptly symbolic of the kind of misguided political theatre that is fueling the party's stupefying descent into fringe-relevancy.

By now, most of those following these matters understand that prior to its eventual removal, signatories to the Marriage Vow Pledge were totally cool with an intellectually dyslexic parable (to put it mildly) premising that black children were more fortunate living in two-parent families during slavery than black children who today live in a single-parent environment.  

The pledge game, as put forth by GOP-leaning conservative special interest groups and Republican elected officials including members of Congress, is fairly simple. It's a bit like   Got a fiscally- or morally-sanctimonious group, organization or the like in need of some quick (and potentially lucrative) publicity, and a conservative political opportunist looking to hook up with a hot button issue on which to raise his or her profile?   Certainly there's a pledge for that.

Take abortion.   If you're a Republican who believes that in America, the abortion position of every single elected official, federal judge, cabinet or Executive appointee should tilt medieval, the 4-point Susan B. Anthony List Pro Life Pledge is there for you.   Alienate female voters?   Fuggedaboutit.   The Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Sarah Palin and Michelle Malkin wing of the female Republican base get it.   Signers of that pledge include Michele Bachmann; Ron Paul; Tim Pawlenty; Newt Gingrich; and Thaddeus McCotter.

Tired of the government forcing health insurers to include your 25-year-old Play Station wiz of a son under your plan's coverage?   Or maybe you just want to spare your constituents from the "horrors" of Obama's stinking health care.   There's a pledge for that.   You'll find it with "Casino" John Boehner and the rest of the "repeal and replace" crowd at the GOP's Pledge to America sign-up table.
Do you harbor the sneaky suspicion that for some reason, the U.S. Constitution just don't seem to be protected enough?   Well, you're not alone.   So do the folks who rock those snazzy three-cornered hats:   the Tea Party Patriots.   In fact, "Protect the Constitution" is numero uno on the Tea Party's 10-point Contract from America Pledge.

Maybe you are one of those married Republicans who believe that the vows you made at your wedding are insufficient to guarantee that you'll remain faithful to your spouse.   Again, there's a pledge for that.   The 14-point Marriage Vow Pledge created by the social conservative group The Family Leader, is now available as a back-up to your previously stated wedding vows.   Oh, and by the way, it also calls for the rejection of that pesky widow-maker/marriage destroyer known as Sharia law.   Bachman's was the first GOP presidential candidate to sign on with that one.   Santorum is also a signer.   Oddly enough though, Newt Gingrich declined the opportunity to sign.

But in the present political environment within the GOP, if you really want to step up your game, you've got to get your John Hancock on one or both of the two currently "it" pledges: Grover Norquist's 2-point Tax Payer Protection Pledge; and Jim DeMint's (R-SC) 3-point Cut, Cap, and Balance Budget Pledge.  Signing on to either of the two centerpieces of fiscal simple-mindedness serves notice that you share Paul Ryan's moist fantasy of stripping the government of the means to pay the costs of government, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security; and, are down with the Tea Party position that the financial collapse of the U.S. and the rest of the world is preferable to raising your taxes by even one plugged nickel.

It's one of the points made in an editorial titled "America's Debt: Shame on Them" recently published in the Economist part of which reads: "The sticking-point (of the budget debate) is not on the spending side. It is because the vast majority of Republicans, driven on by the wilder-eyed members of their party and the cacophony of conservative media, are clinging to the position that not a single cent of deficit reduction must come from a higher tax take. This is economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical."

And, observing on political pledges in general, Warren Throckmorton, an associate professor of psychology at Pennsylvania's Grove City College noted:   "Overall, this is the kind of thing that should be ignored by any candidate who wants to appeal to the rest of the country and GOP, outside of a small group in Iowa."

Perhaps, but if so, denial of some form has enabled that reality to sail freely over the heads of pledge-addicted Republican incumbents, and many 2012 candidates both declared and potential.   Evidently, it's time they begin to follow the advice Nancy Reagan offered addicts of another kind and "just say no" -- to give up the pledge pen.   But given the narcissistic nature of politicians in general, resisting the temptation seems highly unlikely.   Peer pressure alone render many Republicans defenseless against the enticement to sign on the dotted line.   Norquist's Taxpayer Protection Pledge, for example, boasts a roster of 235 House and 41 Senate members; 13 governors; and 1,200 state legislators, and it's the original version of the Marriage Vow Pledge that includes the signatures of GOP presidential hopefuls Bachmann and Santorum.

There should be little ambiguity attached to the notion that many Republicans view pledge-signing as a means of establishing or further burnishing their conservative political cred among the noisiest, most recalcitrant, and easiest to pander to segment of their base: the Tea Party "patriots."   It's difficult to downplay this particular voting bloc's penchant for becoming instantly raptured by any Republican politician able to shill with authenticity, his or her reverence for "upholding the Constitution; for fiscal sanity; and for the sanctity of traditional marriage."

For proof one need look no further than Herman Cain.

It's also likely that GOP candidates hope or believe that "the American people" will view their pledge-taking as a signed and sealed demonstration of the pledgers' politically macho, "take no prisoners" adherence to principle instead of a vow of tool-like subservience to the leaders of those interest groups -- some of which, like Norquist's Americans For Tax Reform, are stealth-funded.

At this point, a review of recent political history might prove useful in analyzing the possible outcome of the current GOP pledge drive.   Could such "adherence to principal" exceed the disappointing level of adherence established some years back when term limit pledges served as one of the keys to the GOP's return to political power?

Recall that prior to the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, Republicans were having a difficult time getting elected to the House and Senate.   So, via Newt Gingrich's 1994 Contract with America, they made a promise around which they weaved a tale of faux romanticism about ushering in a "new era" of citizen governance:   "If you elect us," they assured voters, "we will serve only a set number of terms."

Today, many elected offices at all levels of government remain held by term limit promise-keepers who somehow forgot that promise once their self-imposed political time clocks ran out.   Perhaps those who eventually took a pass on their own term limit pledge took their battle slogan; Term limits for Teddy! (Kennedy) a tad too literally.

Nevertheless, it's also worth pointing out that since terms limits at the federal level was ruled unconstitutional, the magic word impacting the term limits pledge for most of those Republicans and the Democrats who reneged was, of course, the word "non-binding."   And certainly, over the years, that escape clause has served them well.

According to Open Congress Wiki:
In 2004, eighteen members of Congress were due to leave office as a result of previously made promises. The following eleven, however, broke their pledge and ran for reelection again in the November elections [1]:

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah); Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa); Sen. Richard M. Burr (R-N.C.); Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.); Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio); Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia); Rep. Ralph Hall (D-Texas); Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio); Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.); Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio); Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.)[1]
It might be instructive to point out that America's arguably most famous pledge, the "Pledge of Allegiance" to the U.S. flag, was a the brainchild of Christian socialist (and apparent marketing wiz) Francis Bellamy -- who was, among other things, a U.S. flag salesman.   Bellamy's obvious marketing savoir-faire brings to mind the case in Los Angles a couple of years back, of a glass repairman who developed his own personal economic stimulus plan by way of late-night forays into city armed with a slingshot he used to shoot out windows and car windshields.   Ahh, the "magic" of the marketplace.

But the question remains:   Will pledging work a different kind of magic for the GOP?   One that would enable the party to pull a presidency out of its hat in 2012?   At this rate, it seems that only the magic of a major intervention of sorts can save the Republicans from pledging their party into epic irrelevancy.   What worked for Newt in 1994 seems, this election cycle, unlikely to have the effect of attracting the level of support among independents needed to elevate the GOP into the White House or, in any way, expand the party's base.

It's simple mathematics.   Few of the goals of the various pledges address the need for jobs creation.   In fact, many of them mirror the same GOP policies that have alienated large swaths of the electoral demographic.   Hispanics are put off by the GOP's immigration stance, gays have been alienated over the issue of traditional marriage; women over its anti-reproductive rights position and older voters over Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security cuts.

My take on what's going on with Republican Party is fairly simple.   All the self-flattery among Republicans about how "the American people" gave them control of the House in order to "restore fiscal sanity" to government is pure hogwash and they know it.  

They ignore the possibility that what the "American people" did in 2010 was less a mandate for reigning in government spending as an exercise traditionally undertaken by the electorate during national off-year elections -- restore some level of power to the party that does not control the White House. Indeed, the 2010 mid-term elections was an event characterized by the top-heavy involvement of the GOP's fringe base.  A large percentage of the progressive and independent vote stood pat.

Yet, Republicans have tried to spin that voter behavior as proof that Americans by and large want Republicans to engage in the same bizarre political theatre that resulted in their loss of control of the White House and Congress in the first place.   Their susceptibility to their own spin has led to the kind of legislative overreach by the GOP that has resulted in recall elections of conservative Republicans all over America for things like union-busting, and which continues in the form of the GOP's stance on deficit reduction.

Indeed, there have been as many as 19   polls taken since the beginning of the year that indicate Americans by and large support tax increases as one of the means of lowering the deficit.

"Contrary to Republican dogma," wrote Fiscal Times columnist Bruce Bartlett in late June, "polls show that the American people strongly support higher taxes to reduce the deficit and improve income inequality."

Meanwhile a Gallup poll released on July 13 concurred.   It showed that 80 percent of Americans do not support the GOP position of resolving the deficit problem solely through spending cuts, which nearly all Republicans, via their signing of Norquist's No Tax Pledge, their support of both the Cut, Cap and Balance legislation and the Ryan budget plan, are stubbornly attempting to achieve.

Also, a July 18th Gallup poll revealed that a majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents favor a compromise on raising the debt ceiling and not the GOP's unyielding my way or the highway "negotiating" stance.

According to the Huffington Post's Matt Finkelstein, writing in Media Matters' Political Correction, blog: ""not only that Republicans do not have the American people on their side, but that Republicans do not even have Republican voters on their side."

That being the case, for the sake of their Party, isn't it time for Republican pledge-junkies to make one final pledge to the American people before heading off to rehab -- a pledge not to sign any more pledges?

No comments:

Post a Comment

I want to hear from you but any comment that advocates violence, illegal activity or that contains advertisements that do not promote activism or awareness, will be deleted.