Lemon pledge

House Republican leaders unveiled a 21-page "Pledge to America" Thursday, a campaign document that raises an important question: "Is this the best you've got?"

Once you get past the first couple of pages of chest-beating cliches and into the specifics, you find little but the traditional shibboleths of modern Republicanism: Unleashing free enterprise. Creating jobs by cutting red tape and regulation. Stopping tax hikes. Cutting business taxes. Traditional marriage. Fully funding a missile defense program. Repealing the health care bill and replacing it with programs more amenable to the insurance industry.

Except for Iran (bad) there's not much in there about foreign policy — nothing about Russia, China or Pakistan.

There's a pledge to "roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels." This would be done simultaneously, indeed, miraculously, without touching Defense, Social Security or Medicare (three-fourths of the federal budget) and while keeping the budget-busting Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 intact.

What are they going to cut? Meat inspectors? Air-traffic controllers? The FBI? The pledge doesn't say.

Nor does it say anything about congressional earmarks, or how the deficit exploded by $1.3 trillion during the eight years of the Bush administration.

One thing on which the pledge is clear: The Obama administration and congressional Democrats are bad. Very bad. The phrase "job-killing" is used nine times.

Ironically, some of the harshest criticism directed at the pledge came from Republicans who were hoping for something a little more thoughtful. Erick Erickson, founder of the conservative blog RedState.com, called it "mom-tested, kid-approved pabulum that will make certain hearts on the right sing in solidarity. But like a diet full of sugar, it will actually do nothing but keep making Washington fatter before we crash from the sugar high ... a grand illusion of an agenda that will never happen is best spoken of today and then never again as if it did not happen. It is best forgotten."

The pledge was written under the auspices of one Brian Wild, who is on the staff of House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. Wild is a former lobbyist who has worked for, among others, AIG, Pfizer and ExxonMobil, none of which hardly ever wants anything from government.

There is a fundamental dichotomy on the right, just as there is on the left. On the right, it's between conservative theorists, such as Erickson, who truly believe that the government is best that governs least, and the Republican political class, which uses government in service of its corporate funders and its own best interests.

Boehner, for example, wants to spend $485 million next year on redundant engines, which the Pentagon doesn't want, for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Why is that not wasteful federal spending? Because the engines would be built in his home state.

On the left, the dichotomy is between those who believe in the ideals of progressivism and the political class, which is far too willing to compromise those ideals in service of its own political interests.

The pledge probably will be a one-day wonder, unlikely to sway any voter who hasn't already made up his mind. A Republican candidate may take the pledge, only to find himself confronted with the need to bring home a nice piece of federal pork before the next election.

Luckily, no one will remember the pledge by then.

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