We have been wondering when and how American politics got to the point where it seems as if hardly anything can get done anymore. On a truly bi-partisan basis, at least.
We think we crossed the River of Rubicon when President George H.W. Bush, 41, uttered these (in)famous words at the 1988 Republican convention: “Read My Lips. No New Taxes!”
And the crowd roared with delight and approval.
Excepting for the fact that this catchy slogan helped him win the 1988 Presidency, those 6 words also led to his defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton with an assist from Ross Perot in 1992, only 4 short years later.
Why? Because President Bush signed into law the 1990 Budget Act that contained a miniscule amount of tax increases on things like cigarettes. And because of his famous 1988 declaration, he was viewed as a ‘liar’ and couldn’t be trusted.
You know what? That minor increase in cigarette taxes was a small price to pay, especially since now in retrospect, we can see that the 1990 Act led to balanced federal budgets from 1998-2000. Which we may NEVER have again in our lifetimes the way things are now going.
We had all the tobacco lobbyists come into our office on their knees with tears in their eyes begging for Congressman McMillan to vote for the second version of that Act that had an 4-cent per pack tax hike on their products. Why? Because they knew if it didn’t pass, the next one would be 8 cents and the next would be 16 and so on in some sort of grotesque geometrical progression.
That 1990 Budget Act might have been the greatest thing Bush 41 ever did in office, notwithstanding his leadership in the First Iraq War. It set the stage for responsible fiscal policies under Bill Clinton and the GOP Congress by instituting PAYGO and setting hard spending cap limits on discretionary spending. Wouldn't it be comforting to have them in place today?
If the United States of America can’t trust a decent leader like Bush 41 to do what he or she thinks is best in the long-term best interests of the United States of America, then why do we elect representatives to represent us in the first place?
Here’s our problem and what we’d like you to think about today: “What good are pledges anyway nowadays in American politics? Do they help or hinder our democratic process to achieve the common good for our nation?”
We all know about the 'no new tax pledge' every candidate is asked to sign and obey…'or else!’ There are the “No Changes to Social Security and Medicare, Ever!” pledges that promise to neuter any person who even dares speak the word ‘reform’ when it is directed toward either entitlement program. ‘No This!’; ‘No That!’ on virtually every subject running from taxes to saving the spotted owl; a candidate could sign literally thousands of pledges before serving one day in Congress.
But oddly enough, there are no "No More Debt!" pledges out there for anyone to sign. Why is that?
Our view is that by the time a candidate gets to Washington, they are so hamstrung by all these pledges they can’t compromise on anything to get anything done.
We need a ‘No Pledge’ Pledge: 'I pledge to do the best job I can for you in Washington. And if you don't like it, you can run yourself or elect someone else next time around.'
Think about it. If you believe in smaller government and balanced budgets and were presented with $1 trillion in spending reductions BUT the deal included $1/head in new income taxes on everyone in the nation, including the 50% who currently pay no income tax, would you be able to vote for it if you had signed a “No New Tax!” pledge?
Nope. You’d drop it like a rock. You would forfeit perhaps your only chance to reduce the national debt from growing by $1 trillion because of your ‘sacred honor’ that has been pledged to not raise even a $1 income tax increase on 140 million households to raise $140 million in new revenue. That is a measly, meager .014% tax hike to spending reduction ratio.
People sneeze in Congress and their amendment with $140 million in new spending is passed by voice vote on an appropriations bill nowadays.
You might find this hard to believe but some former colleagues and friends on the Republican side have impolitely called us ‘communists’ for even allowing the thought of raising $1 in new taxes from everyone to enter our minds as a price of getting $1 trillion in spending cuts.
And these are from the very same people whom we saw running away from any support of the $500 billion in spending reductions we helped develop and introduce from the House Budget Committee in 1992, 1993 and 1994. We have kept the names of the guilty parties confidential just so some of you will not have your image of conservative heroes completely popped like a helium balloon.
Quite honestly, we think some of them have taken leave of their senses and don’t deserve to be taken seriously as statesmen or leaders in American politics anymore. Rejecting a $1 tax hike on everyone because of their pledge while failing to capture $1 trillion in spending cuts is the Websterian definition of insanity.
Even the original framers of the Constitution in 1787 gave themselves some leeway on the most contentious issues of the time. You don’t think the South Carolina delegation under John Rutledge had given every assurance to their fellow slaveholders in the state that they would ‘never, ever over our dead bodies give any consideration to the notion that slaves would be counted as ‘people’ for voting representational purposes’?
Well, thankfully even these bombastic southern gentlemen compromised and agreed to the 3/5ths standard which opened the door to the signing of the Constitution. Without it, the Constitutional Convention would have been stuck in neutral and never passed in anywhere close to the form we know today. It took far too long for full civil rights to happen for African-Americans and suffrage for women to pass in America but without the magic ingredient of ‘compromise’, the American Republic would have ceased to exist long, long ago.
We need that sort of “Spirit of ‘76’ nowadays in the form of support of compromise and rational thought processes on entitlement reform, budget-balancing and tax reform. Not dogmatic adherence to pledges defined by very narrow special interests or lobbying groups. Like the AARP, come to think about a prime example of a non-compromising powerful entity.
Elect people this fall who will compromise and use their best judgment to lead our nation and not sign any pledges to box them in. Apparently the ones who are now in office do not have the capacity to negotiate and compromise for the good of our nation because of all their signed pledges, no doubt.
They have forfeited their chance to lead as a result. We have some very large problematic dragons that cry out for new, true leaders to help slay right now as opposed to having the same old 'show horses', spinmeisters and talking head mavens dance around them...once again.