Commentary Magazine


Pledging with Restraint

I’m with Yuval Levin (smart move in nearly all circumstances) on the Republicans’ Pledge to America :

On the whole, in both substantive and political terms, the Pledge is a very smart and impressive document. Conservatives always love to complain that Republican members of congress and their staffs never get anything right. Here is some proof to the contrary.

It is tricky to do three things simultaneously, which I think, by and large, the document does. First, a party wants to give its candidates a road map for the remainder of the campaign. New candidates and neophyte campaigns can look to the Pledge for some basic policy objectives. The message is clear: focus on the big, primarily economic, issues. Second, with liberals and media (I repeat myself) spinning the notion that Republicans are “divided,” it is helpful to put out a document that various factions of the party can agree with. Social conservatives are generally delighted, and economic conservatives should be as well, with strong statements on taxes, spending control, and repeal of ObamaCare. (Recall that not too long ago, there was disagreement on the right as to whether “repeal and replace” was the correct position.) Hawks should be pleased with the robust statements on missile defense and the war on terror. (“We will oppose all efforts to force our military, intelligence, and law enforcement personnel operating overseas to extend ‘Miranda Rights’ to foreign terrorists.”) And finally, the document doesn’t create any problems for candidates — nothing too extreme, nothing for the left to seize upon as wacky. Even on the hot-button issue of abortion, the positions articulated are ones that garner substantial popular support:

We will establish a government-wide prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion and subsidies for insurance coverage that includes abortion. This prohibition would go further and enact into law what is known as the Hyde Amendment as well as ban other instances of federal subsidies for abortion services. We will also enact into law conscience protections for health care providers, including doctors, nurses, and hospitals.

John McCormack sums up: “There are, of course, other ‘social’ conservative issues–like embryo-destructive research and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ — but the party is divided on those issues, which explains why the House GOP didn’t put them in the pledge.” Sounds like these people actually want to win this time.

And on immigration reform, restraint also was evident:

The problem of illegal immigration and Mexican drug cartels engaged in an increasingly violent conflict means we need all hands on deck to address this challenge. We will reaffirm the authority of state and local law enforcement to assist in the enforcement of all federal immigration laws. … We must take action to secure our borders, and that action starts with enforcing our laws. We will ensure that the Border Patrol has the tools and authorities to establish operational control at the border and prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from interfering with Border Patrol enforcement activities on federal lands.

Not exactly fire and brimstone stuff. Instead, sensible, modest, and popular.

Ultimately, what’s in the document is not so important as having a document and avoiding numerous potholes. The GOP did that. That’s not bad for a party that was flat on its back two years ago.