The Pledge: Governing Is Tough

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The Republican "Pledge to America" is taking the same knocks from conservatives that President Obama's agenda is taking from progressive Democrats: it's a mush; it tries to appeal to everyone, and in doing so, it appeals to no one. The GOP could have gone hard right or could have gone bold, focusing the document on the economic needs of the middle class. They did neither.

It's like Obama. He could have gone far to the left, or gone really bold (he really didn't do either). His two signature achievements -- health care and the stimulus -- became, under the glare of the lights, half-measures. Time will tell if they mature into something more significant. 


To the extent that Obama has been constrained by institutions, Republicans need to learn a lesson or two from him. Governing with a multitude of coalitions is really tough. The Republicans who are going to be in power soon KNOW that they were in power a few years ago, and they know, even though they will not admit this publicly, that their policies helped to blow up the debt, that they facilitated earmarks, that they marched the country into an unwinnable war. Some even acknowledge that they are just as responsible for the collapse of the financial system, although no one has used the occasion to re-imagine a capitalism for the 21st century.

In 1994, Republicans had no institutional memory of being in power. That allowed them to be bolder in their promises and convictions. Arguably, it also led to their excesses, such as the government shutdown of 1995. Voters will expect Republicans in the House to pass legislation that Obama could theoretically sign. Voters will expect new ideas, especially for the struggling middle class. If they get none -- if they get the Pledge -- the party will have wasted another chance to actually move the country to the right through policy, rather than simply delaying an inevitable creep to the left. The House GOP doesn't get the vision thing. Maybe they don't need to to win an election. But conservative independents aren't necessarily going to be satisfied with the same old, same old. And neither will a general election audience.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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