When the U.S. House Republicans unveiled their 21-page Pledge to America to set the legislative agenda in the likely event that they take control of the House this November, they ignited a firestorm of controversy on the Right.
Other than the cautious approval of The National Review, most responses among conservative bloggers and publications ranged from lukewarm disappointment to harsh criticism.
Conservatives are already weary of promises from a party that has a long history of breaking them. For eight years during the Bush Administration, Republicans pursued an agenda that trampled on transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility in Washington.
Before that, House Republicans promised to eliminate 95 major federal programs after sweeping to victory with a 54-seat swing in the 1994 midterm elections, but by 2000 the combined budgets of those programs had actually increased by 13%.
Already skeptical of any promises the Republican Party has to make, many conservatives were underwhelmed by a pledge that they found tepid, impotent, and unserious when it comes to actually making the substantive reforms most Americans would like to see in Washington.
An eerily similar drama is playing itself out in the not-so-microcosm of California state politics, as gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s own policy agenda, “Building a New California” draws fire from the Right for lacking the boldness or substance necessary to reform Sacramento.
Back in 2003, California voters were so desperate for reform that they recalled Governor Gray Davis in a special election and elected Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger to the state’s highest office.
He promised to turn California around and radically cut wasteful spending from its budget, going so far as to say:
“Every governor proposes moving boxes around to reorganize government. I don’t want to move the boxes around; I want to blow them up.”
Six years later, and nothing has come of the new governor’s brash statements. California’s budget deficit continues to climb, and its unemployment rate is 12.4%.
Like the House Republicans, Meg Whitman’s policy agenda offers only an attempt to move toward a balanced budget, not an actual balanced budget itself.
And while both public policy documents start off with an admirable assessment of the problems that need to be solved, they also both consist of weak and sometimes even potentially counter-productive “solutions.”
Reason Magazine‘s Tim Cavanaugh took a detailed look this week at several of these timid or even destructive policies in a scathing review that concluded:
If you think extreme times call for meager measures, Whitman is the governor for you.
In an article at the conservative American Thinker, entitled “New Is Not Necessarily Improved,” one columnist opined that Whitman’s plan would only serve to “further undermine the individual liberties of the people of California,” and questioned the ideological credentials of both gubernatorial candidates:
“Unfortunately, neither Meg Whitman nor Jerry Brown can return California to America’s Founding Principles. That’s because neither, I believe, is able to tell a Founding Principle from a kumquat.”
As close as Whitman’s polling numbers are to Democratic candidate Jerry Brown’s, there’s no telling who will replace Schwarzenegger. But it’s clear what Californians need, and that’s someone who will do more than “moving boxes around” while debt and unemployment continue to grow.