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In Defense of Non-Specificity

James Joyner is disappointed with the GOP leadership and thinks “the party must run on specific proposals in order to garner the leverage necessary to roll back the last few years of Democratic excesses.”

Unfortunately, despite a series of “Establishment” Republicans being sent packing by the base, all the signs so far indicate that McConnell and Co. just want to get their power back, not to actually do anything with it. Boehner’s been better, but the resistance to campaigning on a theme of, say, Paul Ryan’s Roadmap is unmistakable. The party need not endorse the specifics of Ryan’s plan in every particular to set forth a plan of action along those lines.

Kevin Drum agrees but sees cowardice: “if they did that, they’d lose. The public doesn’t want to hear about spending cuts except in the most general, stemwinding terms, and a concrete plan of action ‘along those lines’ would be massively unpopular with the electorate.”

I don’t really agree with Joyner’s line of reasoning. One of my takeaways from the 2007–2009 experience is that the idea of trying to get politicians to run on specific commitments is vastly overrated. There are just way too many steps between legislative inputs and outputs for these kind of things to have any real meaning. Whether or not Boehner wants to endorse the Ryan Roadmap it’s obvious enough that Barack Obama is not going to sign a Medicare privatization bill into law. What I’d be more interested in seeing the answers to some more thematic questions. For example, in addition to the endless nutty investigations, the 1995–2000 years saw a lot of legislating on fairly important topics. There was the welfare reform bill, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, the creation of SCHIP, etc. What does Boehner think of those years? Did congressional Republicans give away the store in a way he’s determined to avoid? Or did they squander the opportunity to do even more bipartisan legislating with run-amok investigations?

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