Seventeen years ago next Tuesday, on September 27, 1994, House Republican candidates signed the Contract with America.
The debt we owed President Ronald Reagan was captured in the Washington Post’s headline “GOP Offers a ‘Contract’ To Revive Reagan Years.”
As the Post reported:
“More than 300 Republican lawmakers and candidates yesterday pledged that if they take over the House next year, they will resurrect the Reagan agenda that drove the party’s success in the 1980s — promises of balanced budgets, tax cuts and defense buildups.
“House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (Ga.), poised to become Republican leader in the next Congress, proclaimed the photogenic rally on the Capitol steps “an historic event” that would change the government as much as the New Deal did. The 10-point agenda, he said, gives Republicans a positive platform and a response to charges that their only message is opposition to President Clinton.”
We ran an ad in TV Guide that was two full pages. It had no pictures and no attacks on President Clinton or the Democrats. It was totally positive and issue-oriented. The ad outlined the ten bills we pledged to vote on in the first 100 days if we were given a majority.
The American people liked our positive focus on issues enough to give us the greatest vote increase in American history for any party in an off year. Republicans gained 9 million more votes while Democrats lost a million votes.
We didn’t ask the American people to like us. We asked them to like a program that would make their lives better and which fit their values.
The contrast with President Obama’s approach could not be clearer.
In North Carolina last week, he illustrated vividly the difference between Obama and Reagan and the difference between the Obama program and the Contract with America.
In a moment of excitement, President Obama slipped and revealed just how Obamacentric his plan is.
When a student from the crowd yelled “I love you,” the President apparently couldn’t help himself. He responded, “But if you love me, you’ve got to help me pass this bill!”
This is a very odd argument.
Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans clearly don’t love President Obama. If support for the bill is supposed to be a display of affection for the president, the bill is clearly dead on arrival.
In any event, the fact that the president tied himself to the bill politically is not a reason for Americans to support it.
The purpose of a jobs bill should be to give that student a better chance to get a job. The student should support such a bill from enlightened self interest—because she believes it will actually help her and her classmates get jobs.
The aim of self-government is not to be a venue to express love for the president. The aim of self-government is to propose a program which can bring Americans together to get something good for the country.
President Obama’s personal lovability shouldn’t enter into this pricey equation. The central focus should be what’s right for America, not what’s good for Obama.
As President Clinton noted on Sunday talk shows this week, we were able to work together through divided government to balance the budget, reform welfare, cut taxes and bring unemployment down to 4.2 percent.
It took real maturity and discipline, and a focus on doing what was best for America, to get a Republican Congress and a Democratic President to do that much despite divided government.
In that very revealing slip, President Obama gave us a better understanding of why he has been so incompetent at getting things done in a new period of divided government.
“We” can get a lot done under our Constitution. “Me” can’t get anything done.