By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 23, 2010; 11:08 PM
It took the Republicans just three minutes to violate their "Pledge to America."
In a lumberyard near Dulles Airport on Thursday morning, House Republicans handed out copies of the Pledge, which, among other things, promises to rein in an "arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites."
Yet moments after taking the stage to face the cameras, GOP leaders appointed themselves arrogant elites. They compared themselves to the Founding Fathers and likened their actions at Tart Lumber to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) told the reporters that he would speak slowly and with clarity, "just as John Hancock boldly signed his name to the Declaration of Independence so even Britain's King George could read it."
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) then read passages from the Pledge that paraphrase the Declaration: "Every American citizen is endowed with certain rights from their creator. When our government charts a course that endangers those rights, the people - indeed, the people! - have the right to demand a new agenda from their government."
The 45-page booklet explaining the Pledge contains archaic fonts reminiscent of the founding texts, and it is filled with random snippets of historical phrases such as "consent of the governed" and "bearing true faith and allegiance." The Republicans illustrated their own importance with a full-page photo of Mount Rushmore facing a full-page photo of Rep. Rob Wittman (Va.) working at a meat counter.
The lawmakers piled on layers of sentimentality. "We pledge to uphold the model for our country our founders envisioned, a grander America, the exception among the nations of the Earth, where promise of liberty refreshes the hopes of mankind," exulted McCarthy, who designed the Pledge.
Yet for all the grandiosity, the document they released is small in its ambition. The policy goals they cited were banal ("Support the troops! Fight the terrorists!), and their prescriptions were often narrow and procedural (regular votes on proposed regulations).
The flaws became apparent when the lawmakers made the mistake of taking questions. "There are not many specifics in here about how you would get to the balanced budget if you plan to extend all the tax cuts and expand defense spending," the Associated Press's Julie Hirschfeld Davis pointed out. "So can you give us some more details?"
John Boehner, the man who would be House speaker if Republicans won control of the chamber in November, responded that "by having the spending cap at 2008 levels, we can save $100 billion a year."
"What percentage of the problem in terms of our deficit is being taken care of by this plan?" Slate's John Dickerson inquired.
Boehner repeated that Republicans would be "saving $100 billion a year" by returning spending to 2008 levels.
For the record, with a budget deficit of $1.3 trillion this year, the GOP pledge to cut $100 billion would take care of not quite 8 percent of the problem.
Getting rid of earmarks? Not in the Pledge. Dealing with the millions of illegal immigrants in this country? Not in the Pledge. Reforming Social Security and Medicare? Not in the Pledge. And when it comes to social issues such as marriage and abortion, "we are not going to be any different than what we've been," Boehner asserted.
When it comes to the really tough problems, all the minority leader would say is that "it's time for us as Americans to have an adult conversation with each other." But an adult conversation was not to be had at Tart Lumber. Instead came a collection of campaign slogans aimed at President Obama: "tyranny . . . future hangs in the balance . . . road to bankruptcy . . . disastrous policies of the current administration."
The lawmakers lost more altitude with their awkward regular-guy routine. They eschewed neckties, and most rolled up their shirt sleeves. Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Conference, arrived wearing suit pants but changed to khakis before facing the cameras. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah) wore blue jeans. Boehner, a heavy smoker, appeared to be chewing gum on stage, then rushed outside for a smoke.
It was an official taxpayer-funded event, and the minority leader called the Pledge a "governing agenda." But that pretense fell apart when Boehner, after the rollout, crossed the street to join a group of tea party demonstrators who offered him a stainless-steel tea kettle.
"Can I keep this as a souvenir?" he asked.
He carried the cookware back to his Suburban, but before his security detail could whisk him away, Boehner was confronted by a liberal blogger trying to implicate him in a sex scandal.
This was no way to treat a Founding Father.