September 23, 2022
Today, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who took over as the chair of the House Republican Conference after the party rejected Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) for her refusal to back the January 6 insurrection, released the House Republicans’ plan for the country.
Covering just a single page, it presents vague aspirations—many of which Biden has already put in place—but focuses on the radical extremes of the MAGA party while trying to make those extremes sound mild.
The so-called “Commitment to America” calls for a strong economy, a safe nation, a free future, and an accountable government. So far, so good.
But the first topic—making the economy strong—is a paraphrase of what the Biden administration has been doing. The Republicans call for fighting inflation and lowering the cost of living, making America energy independent, bringing down gas prices, strengthening the supply chain, and ending the country’s dependence on China.
This is quite literally the platform of the Democrats, but while the Republicans offer no actual proposals to contribute to these goals, Biden has taken concrete steps to address inflation by taking on the shipping monopolies that hiked transportation costs, for example, while Democrats in Congress have passed legislation capping the cost of certain prescription medications. Biden has released reserves to help combat high gas prices, which have now fallen close to their cost last March—a barrel of oil is now under $80—while expanding our nation’s pool of truck drivers and just last week averting a train strike that would have endangered supply chains. The incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act are designed specifically to make America energy independent while addressing climate change, and Biden’s extraordinary efforts to support economic development in the Indo-Pacific region, along with the CHIPS and Science Act, were explicitly designed to reduce U.S. dependence on China.
It feels rather as if the Republicans recognize that Biden’s policies are popular, and are hoping that voters haven’t noticed that he is actually putting them in place.
Then the document gets to the heart of its argument, recycling MAGA talking points in language that makes it very attractive. Who doesn’t want national safety, for example?
But national safety is described here as securing the border and combatting illegal immigration (something already in place), adding 200,000 police officers through recruiting bonuses, cracking down on prosecutors and district attorneys who refuse to prosecute crimes (this is likely directed at those who say they will not prosecute women for obtaining abortions), criminalizing all fentanyl, and supporting our troops and exercising peace through strength (which likely means reversing Biden’s emphasis on multilateral diplomacy to return to using the U.S. military as a global enforcer)— all MAGA demands.
“A Future That’s Built on Freedom” is a similar sleight of hand, meaning something far from the freedom of the recent past. Here it means giving parents control over their childrens’ education (more book banning and laws that prohibit teaching subjects that make students “uncomfortable”), “defend[ing] fairness by ensuring that only women can compete in women’s sports” (there’s the anti-trans statement), achieving “longer, healthier lives for Americans” by what appears to be getting rid of the Affordable Care Act, and what appears to be a defense of the use of ivermectin and other quack cures popular on the right (“lower prices through transparency, choice, and competition,” “invest in lifesaving cures,” and “improve access to telemedicine”). It also demands confronting “Big Tech” to make it fair, which is likely a reference to the right wing’s conviction that social media discriminates against it by banning hate speech.
The section about accountable government calls for preserving constitutional freedoms, which they interpret as an apparent national ban on abortion—a constitutional right until this past June—saying they will “protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers.” They defend “religious freedom,” which the right wing, including the Supreme Court, has interpreted as freedom for Christian schools to receive public tax money and for Christian coaches to pray with students. The document also calls for safeguarding the Second Amendment, which the right wing has increasingly interpreted since the 1970s to mean that the government cannot regulate gun ownership.
This section of the document calls for rigorous oversight of the government “to rein in government abuse of power and corruption,” providing “real transparency,” and requiring the White House “to answer for its incompetence at home and abroad.” It also says Republicans will “save and strengthen Social Security and Medicare.”
While the part of this section that calls for stopping government abuse and incompetence seems rich coming from the MAGA Republicans, the statement that they intend to protect Social Security and Medicare strikes me as I felt when hearing Trump tell voters in 2020 that he would protect Obamacare at the very time his lawyers were in court trying to overturn the law. Now, in this moment, leading Republicans have vowed to get rid of Social Security and Medicare, which is an interesting way to “save and strengthen” them.
Similarly, the section promising to “restore the people’s voice” calls for voting restrictions.
In short, the document feels like the doublespeak from George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. To defend the indefensible, Orwell wrote in an essay titled “Politics and the English Language,” “political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness…. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who focused on the power of language to alter reality and who helped to write the 1994 Contract with America that enabled the Republicans to take control of the House for the first time since 1954, worked on this document. The Contract with America, which party leaders called a contract as a promise that it would be binding, led the Republicans to shut down the government for 28 days between November 1995 and January 1996 to get their way before they entirely abandoned the “contract.”
To sell today’s document to voters, Republicans used a slick video, but Jennifer Bendery of HuffPost noted that the film uses stock videos from Russia and Ukraine in its “Commitment to America.” When Bendery reached out to McCarthy for comment, his spokesperson Mark Bednar responded: “Interesting how you guys aren’t remotely interested in the issues facing the American people in the video.”
But will it work? The document tries to win Trump voters without actually mentioning Trump, who now alienates all but his fervent supporters. But he continues to dominate the Republican Party and to grab the headlines. Tonight, 60 Minutes teased a story that will broadcast on Sunday and is already raising eyebrows. In it, Denver Riggleman, former senior tech advisor for the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, said that the White House switchboard connected a call to a rioter’s phone while the Capitol was under siege on January 6, 2021.