The energy and the logic on the right wants Big Government dismantled. Very simply, it has been tried for almost 80 years, it does not work, it cannot work — not if you accept that there is a human nature and that it will always assert itself. Therefore, the welfare state needs to be dismantled. Reaching that conclusion doesn’t make us heartless. We believe in the goodness of the country. We believe responsible people will tend to their own needs, and that those who can’t or won’t provide for themselves are more likely to be empowered by private guidance and charity than by a government that turns them into permanent dependents — and gouges the rest of us while so doing.
Consequently, we don’t want to be told how you’re going to make Big Government work better. We want to know how you’re going to reduce government to a neutral guarantor of liberty. We want to know how you are going to strip the federal Leviathan down to its few enumerated powers and ensure that the remaining powers “are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” That last quote is also from the pledge’s inspiring preamble and, naturally, is not the work of the authors but of the Constitution’s framers — specifically, the Tenth Amendment. Alas, when you flip the page and get to the pledge’s guts (or lack thereof), you don’t get the Tenth Amendment. You get Big Government Lite.
DEBT, WHAT DEBT?
FDR’s world on Barack Obama’s steroids — with no small help from the GOP’s drunken-sailor spree through the “compassionate” Bush years — has put us well over an unimaginable $100 trillion in the hole. Interesting thing about unimaginable numbers: They’re easy not to imagine, and the pledge doesn’t even try.
Instead, Republicans resort to the unique Washington math that pegs the debt at about $13 trillion, or roughly one-tenth of its real size. They then bravely promise — with respect to the unfunded, unsustainable entitlements that make up most of the remaining nine-tenths — to require “a full accounting of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.” That may settle the burning question of whether the true catastrophe is merely $106 trillion or, as National Review’s Kevin Williamson more realistically puts it, $130 trillion. But it won’t do a damn thing about it. Nor will promises to “set benchmarks for these programs and review them regularly, and prevent the expansion of unfunded liabilities.” The expansion? They want a medal for promising — without explaining how — to guard against the expansion of something that is a galaxy beyond intolerable as is?
There are only three ways to deal with entitlements: default on promised benefits, turn the currency into Monopoly money, or figure out a way to pay them honestly, no doubt by tax levies that dwarf today’s rising tab. That is cruel reality, and it will saddle not only the young people currently paying into the system who won’t see a dime, but their children and grandchildren who for generations will be left holding the bag for the Baby Boom’s utopia. No one in his right mind, understanding these consequences, would ever adopt such a Ponzi scheme in the first place. So, since we understand the consequences in a way the nation did not in the 1930s, how can we in good conscience continue it?
Yet that is exactly what the pledge does. For all the preamble pizzazz about freedom and responsibility, when it gets down to brass tacks, the GOP has no brass: It assumes Americans are junkies hooked on entitlement smack, incapable of going cold turkey and insensitive to the fact that we’ve run out of other people’s money. Republicans obliquely promise to “make the decisions necessary to protect our entitlement programs for today’s seniors and future generations.” Feel better now?
And sounding like good Democrats, the pledge’s authors demagogically denounce the other side for Obamacare’s “massive Medicare cuts,” pining that these will “fall squarely on the backs of seniors.” One needn’t overlook the disaster that is Obamacare in order to see that such reckless rhetoric will be a noose around the neck of any grown-up who actually undertakes to scrap Medicare — which currently has no money but about $75 trillion in unfunded liabilities (i.e., over five times the “cumulative national debt” of $13 trillion that the pledge elsewhere indicates is intolerable).
UNINTENTIONALLY VINDICATING OBAMACARE
Speaking of Obamacare, the Republicans promise to repeal it. That’s great — except they can’t leave well enough alone. They further commit to “replace it” with what turns out to be their own version of government-regulated health care. To be sure, they envision a less intrusive system that leans on free-market reforms and the curbing of litigation abuse. But it also sows the seeds of its own undoing and, perversely, of Obamacare’s legal vindication.
The pledge duly attacks Obamacare’s most obnoxious feature, the individual mandate that would require Americans, as a condition of living in this country, to purchase health insurance. It is unconstitutional, the GOP declares. This leads to one of the more vapid features of the pledge: the commitment to force Congress to include in each law it enacts an explanation of the law’s constitutionality. But the pledge does not stake out any constitutional philosophy. It does not claim, for example, that Wickard v. Filburn (1942), the Supreme Court’s New Deal watershed that dramatically expanded Congress’s Commerce Clause power to regulate intrastate affairs, was wrongly decided. The pledge would merely require a certification of constitutionality — as if progressive judicial interpretations of the Constitution (such as Wickard) were not readily available to justify any usurpation the feds care to dream up.