Last Thursday’s unveiling of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy‘s long-promised “Commitment to America” is a step in the right direction, in that it offers voters a sense that the GOP at least has an agenda. But it is hardly a giant leap and lacks the excitement, specificity, and strength that made 1994’s “Contract With America” such a game-changer.
Unlike its predecessor, this latest attempt to provide a scoresheet for evaluating House candidates reads as if it was drafted by a committee or committees, which in fact it apparently was. Not that such preparation is a fatal defect, but if the resulting document is wordy, lacking in clarity and precision, and comes across as an effort to please everyone who had a hand in its drafting, it loses the very attributes that made the 1994 Contract so appealing.
Perhaps the 2022 Commitment is so different from its predecessor because the political environment in which this year’s mid-term voters will cast their votes is so dissimilar. In 1994 Democrats entered the final weeks before the November elections blissfully confident that their four-decade long House majority would hold once again. This year, virtually every poll indicates the Democrats will lose their majority in the House.
In such environment, perhaps it makes sense to present a national Republican agenda that is strong on generalities and short on specifics; a game plan that provides just enough substance to qualify as an actual agenda without alienating voters already inclined to vote Republican. If so, it is precisely the type of timidity that many Republican voters have come to identify with the GOP in recent years.
The 1994 Contract was prepared in secret by a small group of House Republican leaders with input from an even smaller cadre of tested consultants. It was not promised and referred to repeatedly and publicly over many months, thereby reducing, if not eliminating any excitement “bump” once it was sprung whole cloth on the electorate and the Democrats.
Most importantly, however, the Contract gave the American electorate something it never before had received – a specific, concise, and clear set of ten manageable promises, set forth in language easily understandable to the average voter. It promised but importantly did not over-promise, and it set a very specific timetable for keeping those promises.
The current Commitment is very different, consisting of four broad, evergreen “themes” that tend to appeal to virtually every voter: a strong economy, a secure nation, a future of freedom, and an accountable government.
Each of these general topics is then buttressed with several sub-topics, which each in turn contains a few specifics. Drilling down to these specifics, the committed reader does indeed discover a few clear policy proposals and legislative initiatives for the GOP to pass if it regains the majority. These include a “Parents Bill of Rights” and ending proxy voting in the House.
Unfortunately, many of the “specifics” included in the Commitment lack details, and while all are consistent with long-standing tenets of the modern Republican Party — “curb wasteful government spending,” “secure the border,” and “safeguard the Second Amendment” — there are no metrics with which the electorate can measure the Party’s success in keeping its promises.
It pays homage to the now-boiler plate promise by Republicans and Democrats alike – “Save and strengthen Social Security and Medicare” – a slogan that has become as meaningless as a distinction between the two major parties. Its inclusion adds nothing.
Many of the items listed are exceptionally vague — “personalize [health] care” and “move supply chains away from China” – while others border on the esoteric – “enhance America’s … cyber resiliency.”
Perhaps the single most important commitment in the entire document comes toward the end, where McCarthy commits to “conduct rigorous oversight” of the Executive Branch.
If a new Republican House majority conducts serious, substantive, and continuous oversight of abuses by the Executive Branch generally and the Biden Administration in particular – something that is among the rarest exercises of congressional responsibility by either Party – the 2022 Commitment to America will have earned its keep.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.