Resolutions Political Resolutions and Damned Lies

Leo Gerard

‘Tis the season of resolutions. With the new year comes pledges to quit smoking, get out of debt and spend more time with family. Gym memberships jump. Weight Watchers’ profits fatten.

This also happens to be the season of political resolutions. It’s that every-fourth-year event featuring presidential candidates in a contest of campaign promise one-upmanship. Ron Paul pledges to legalize marijuana. Michele Bachmann swears she’ll cut gasoline prices to $2 a gallon. Newt Gingrich guarantees he’ll create millions of jobs “right now.” Mitt Romney assures every college graduate a job.

Unfortunately, this also has been, for some time, a season of damned lies. These are deliberate deceptions involving a higher level of scheming. The Contract with America and the more recent Pledge to America are examples. Republicans knew they couldn’t fulfill what they led the public to perceive as promises. But the GOP designed these “pledges” specifically so that Republicans couldn’t be labeled as failures when what they pseudo-promised never materialized. That’s the stuff of damned lies.

Unfulfilled New Year’s resolutions are legendary. Low calorie salad fixings fill fridges Jan. 2, and remain there, rotting, on Feb. 2. The victim of this broken promise is also the perpetrator and therefore unlikely to protest the infraction.

These days, political resolutions strewn along the presidential campaign trail are picked up and carefully cataloged on the Internet by reporters and bloggers who hold candidates accountable for every syllable. That’s a good exercise, but the public generally recognizes political promise hyperbole and realizes that unexpected events may prevent a president from keeping his word. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for example, pledged not to involve the country in the European war, but then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Mostly, the public shrugs off presidential contenders’ inflated political resolutions.

Damned lies, however, are dangerous because they subvert trust in the political system, which needs the faith of the electorate to function. Damned lies may, in fact, be an integral part of Republican strategy since the GOP hates government of the people by the people and hopes to shrink it small enough to drown in a bathtub.

In their 1994 Contract with America, Republicans vowed:

“in this era of official evasion and posturing, we offer instead a detailed agenda for national renewal, a written commitment with no fine print.”

That, and calling it a contract, led Americans to believe it was a step above a pledge. It was inviolable, sacrosanct. It was a bond with no double-crossing footnotes.

Except it wasn’t.

With the help of the “contract,” Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives. And they passed the easy, less controversial parts of the pledge. But they never enacted the most popular, more contentious promises, including a balanced budget amendment and term limits.

They had, however, set up the “contract” so they could never be blamed for those failures. The most insidious aspect of the Contract with America was the fine print escape hatch it provided the GOP.

Republicans never promised to enact their “contract” provisions into law. They only said they’d vote on them:

“within the first 100 days of the 104th Congress, we shall bring to the House Floor the following bills, each to be given full and open debate, each to be given a clear and fair vote and each to be immediately available this day for public inspection and scrutiny.”

No wonder former President Bill Clinton called it the Contract ON America.

In the fall of 2010, when Republicans were trying to regain control of the U.S. House, they came up with a “contract” clone that they called “A Pledge to America.”

It said:

“Our plan puts forth a new governing agenda that reflects the priorities of the American people . . .and can be implemented today.”

Republicans won the majority in the House a year ago and have had nearly 365 “todays” to implement their pledges. Just like with the 1994 “contract,” Republicans have failed to fulfill the big promises, the important resolutions that people remember.

For example, the pledge said:

“A plan to create jobs, end economic uncertainty, and make America more competitive must be the first and most urgent domestic priority of our government.”

Republicans then proceeded to make deficit reduction their priority. When President Obama proposed a jobs plan in September, Republicans blocked it.

Also in the “Pledge,” the GOP swore to permanently stop “job-killing tax hikes” so that families would be able “to keep more of their hard-earned money.” Then in September when President Obama proposed to extend and enlarge the payroll tax cut for 160 million middle class families, the GOP opposed it.

And there was this pledge:

“We offer a plan to repeal and replace the government takeover of health care.”

As in the “Contract on America,” this is a sleight of hand. It doesn’t say Republicans will repeal health care reform. And, in fact, they didn’t. But they can’t be called failures because they only pledged to “offer a plan to repeal.” They didn’t promise to actually accomplish it, even though that’s what they led voters to believe.

What they can be labeled as failures for, however, is neglecting to produce their promised plan to replace health care reform.

Democrats called the latest formal list of Republican promises the “Pledge to Destroy America.” The destruction was done by the damned lies that denigrated trust in political institutions. It was deliberately done to diminish America’s democratic government.

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