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Opinion Republicans offer their Commitment to Vapid Sloganeering

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), alongside Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), speaks about their party's "Commitment to America" agenda in Monongahela, Pa., on Friday. (Barry Reeger/AP)

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), leader of the House Republicans, has heard the anguished cries of American voters desperate for change but uncertain where the parties want to take their country. And he is ready to guide them.

McCarthy knows that regular folks across this great land have said to one another: Which party is in favor of freedom? Is it the Democrats or the Republicans who are pro-prosperity? Will any take the bold stance of supporting our troops? It’s just so hard to know. If only they would produce a brochure full of vaporous pablum in bulleted form so we can understand what they want to do!

So on Friday, McCarthy and his colleagues traveled to a factory outside Pittsburgh to unveil the Commitment to America, a stirring document that enumerates the GOP agenda should Republicans take control of Congress after November’s midterm elections. The objectives range from defending the United States’ national security to lengthening life spans to, for some reason, eliminating proxy voting in the House. The whole thing fits on a single page.

As one of dozens of Americans who watched the entire Pennsylvania event on C-SPAN, I can testify that it was as simultaneously vapid and revealing as the Commitment itself. It featured a number of doubtlessly pre-screened questioners who served up softballs for the assembled lawmakers.

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My favorite was the small-business owner who had very specific criticisms of Small Business Administration loans (before she got sidetracked on anti-vaccine conspiracy theories). Her chief complaint was that the loan the government gave her isn’t being administered effectively. And it’s true that the SBA has a poor reputation when it comes to efficiency and effectiveness. So are Republicans advocating an increase in its budget, allowing it to hire more staff and update its systems?

Of course not. Their “plan” says not a word about the SBA, or much about any government agencies whose operations they might want to improve.

The same is true of the IRS. At Friday’s event, Republican members and audience questioners repeated the lie that the Inflation Reduction Act will fund 87,000 jackbooted agents to terrorize regular people and small-business owners. In fact, the funds are desperately needed to enable the agency, which has been the target of relentless GOP budget-cutting, to go after wealthy scofflaws who cheat the government out of hundreds of billions of dollars every year.

Visual Essay: Why does the IRS need $80 billion? Just look at its cafeteria.

But to Republicans, nothing is more important than making sure the IRS is outmatched by the rich and that it remains incapable of providing customer service and enforcing the law. One of the first things McCarthy said at the event was: “On our very first bill, we’re going to repeal 87,000 IRS agents.”

Which is a pretty good summary of Republicans’ approach: We’re going to (1) lie to you about what Democrats have done, (2) in order to make you feel angry and afraid, (3) so we can undermine government and make it work poorly, (4) for the benefit of rich people.

Most of what they promise in their Commitment is about the outcomes that will magically be produced by a Republican House: no more illegal immigration, crime eliminated, children well educated and prosperity for all. Indeed, according to The Post’s reporting, part of the reason the Commitment is so empty is that there are internal disagreements about exactly what policy course Republicans ought to follow.

“It’s hard to get everybody’s wishes in a document that fits on a card,” said Rep. Scott Perry (Pa.), the chair of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, explaining the bottom line of the GOP message to voters.

Republicans also understand that while the idea of having ideas is appealing, you don’t want to get too specific. It sounds great to say you’ll “curb wasteful government spending,” but once you explain which programs you actually want to cut, voters tend to say something like, “Hold on there, I said I wanted you to curb wasteful government spending, not take away the spending that helps me!”

As Republicans know, when Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), the chair of the GOP’s Senate campaign arm, released his own policy plan, it got savaged for its promise to raise taxes on low-income Americans. It quickly became an embarrassment that Scott’s colleagues couldn’t disavow fast enough.

This is symptomatic of a broader problem: Many of the core Republican policy positions are spectacularly unpopular. That includes outlawing abortion and cutting taxes for the wealthy. Little surprise, those are hinted at only obliquely in their Commitment to America.

This whole enterprise is an attempt to duplicate the alleged success of Republicans’ Contract With America in 1994; former House speaker Newt Gingrich even advised McCarthy on the creation of the Commitment to America. Back then, with help from the news media, Gingrich constructed the myth that the Contract was so compelling it caused voters to stampede to the GOP in that midterm election.

In fact, surveys showed only a small number of voters had even heard of the Contract With America. The idea that it was politically potent during the campaign was a post-hoc fiction concocted to justify the Republican agenda and claim a mandate for change.

Perhaps we won’t get taken in the same way should Republicans win the House this year. After all, the only real “commitment” they have made is to continue saying everything is terrible and it’s all President Biden’s fault. If that’s what you’re looking for in the next Congress, fine. But don’t expect anything more from the GOP.