The most striking and startling aspect of the House Republicans’ “Pledge to America” – a purported governing document, unveiled today – is its implicit message to the tea-party insurgents.
It’s quite a smackdown; in so many words, it goes something like this:
“We’re in charge, not you. We’re timid and cautious and have no intention of scaring the voters with the promise of a wholesale conservative revolution. And if you all don’t like it, tough.”
The insurgents don’t like it at all. Here’s an actual quote, a burst of fury from tea-party activist/blogger/commentator Erick Erickson: The Republican pledge “is a series of compromises and milquetoast rhetorical flourishes…the House GOP does not have the fortitude to lead boldly in opposition to Barack Obama…It is dreck.”
From the perspective of the pitchfork crowd, it most certainly is. They’ve come to change the GOP – heck, they knocked off eight GOP establishment senatorial candidates during the primaries – and the party leaders on Capitol Hill turn around and feed them (in Erickson’s words) “mom-tested, kid-approved pablum.”
The tea-party formula is basically to slash “big government” spending by all available means, including the targeting of federal entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. But, as evidenced by the Pledge, Republican leaders seem to believe – gee, I can’t imagine why – that such programs are wildly popular, and that while it’s fine to sloganeer about “big government” evils on the campaign trail, it’s another thing to actually shred the safety net that has made life for humane for tens of millions ever since the New Deal.
Therefore, the Pledge has a loophole large enough for a Hummer limousine: “With common-sense exceptions for seniors…we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels.” In translation, House Republican leaders have no plans to seek major savings by going after Social Security and Medicare. (Nor, of course, do they plan to touch the defense establishment, another potential source of savings; if anything, they want to spend more on defense. And while they talk about balancing the budget, they want to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich, a move that would blow a new $700-billion hole in the budget.)
Anyway, much to the tea-partiers’ dismay, the GOP leaders would merely nibble around the edges – for instance, by pledging to end the federal guarantee to Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac; by cutting off the disbursement of all remaining stimulus funds. Their timidity, their refusal to spell out substantive proposals for reducing the size of government, is bound to tick off the foot soldiers who have been dreaming of a new day.
As Erickson puts it, “The entirety of this (Pledge) is laughable. Why? It is an illusion that fixates on stuff the GOP already should be doing, while not daring to touch on stuff that will have any meaningful longterm effects on the size and scope of the federal government.”
Granted, Republican leaders probably figure that they can retake a chamber or two in November simply by playing it safe, since most likely voters seem focused on punishing the Democrats. Why not just sit back and reap the rewards? But, among tea-partiers, that kind of thinking doesn’t fly. All along they’ve been angry not just at the Democrats, but at establishment Republicans who seem to be fixated only on what it takes to win the next election.
The Pledge – and the right-wing reaction to the Pledge – is fresh evidence that long-term harmony between Republican regulars and tea partiers is by no means guaranteed. Right now, at least, it has all the potential trappings of a shotgun marriage.