David Mills: More than a soundbite

The Republican Party has mastered the art of looking good. They have an impressive ability to carve out campaign slogans, political sound bites and punchy policy catch phrases that resonate with voters and help them get elected. The problem, as the newest batch of Republican leaders are finding out as we speak, starts a few weeks after election day, when you raise your right hand and pledge to solve the problems that were so easy to describe on the stump.

Sloganeering is easy. Governing is hard. The trouble really starts when our representatives make promises so completely driven by campaign slogans that there is no way to actually make good on them. That inability to deliver is exactly where Virginia Republicans find themselves right now.

In 2009 candidate Bob McDonnell (R) told Virginians that privatizing the state’s Alcohol and Beverage System would be a painless way to find hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation. Gov. Bob McDonnell quickly found out that his plan would actually cost taxpayers money, but given the promises he made on the stump, he blindly went ahead and tried to get it passed anyway. It has become a classic example of slogan-guided politics failing to solve a big problem.

In 2010, candidates John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan told Americans they had a plan to cut the national debt without raising revenue. They failed to mention what we all learned shortly after they took the majority in the House of Representatives: Their deficit reduction plan breaks America’s promise to the elderly and the poor on items like Medicare and Medicaid, and then spends that money on tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

That plan, which Nobel Prize winning Economist Paul Krugman calls “a sick joke,” is the product of a Republican Party that recognizes the need to take action but is too bound by the rigid dogma (and their Tea Party base) that got them elected to propose a serious solution.

As good as Republicans are at campaigning, we are now seeing how poorly their slogan-driven election efforts prepare them to govern. Conversely, Democrats, who are often better at governing than they are at campaigning, are taking on complex policy challenges with clarity and purpose. Last week President Obama (D) put forth his own plan to reduce the national debt that offers a serious path to avoiding the looming crisis without leaving the elderly and the needy out in the cold.

During that speech, President Obama forcefully articulated what Republicans hope we all forget on Election Day: the solutions to the problems we face don’t often fit on a bumper sticker or in a tweet. Paul Ryan introduced a budget plan that in bumper sticker form sounded pretty good to a lot of serious people. But, as Krugman points out, upon close inspection, “The only real things in it were savage cuts in aid to the needy and the uninsured, huge tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and Medicare privatization. All the alleged cost savings were pure fantasy.”

Paul Ryan and the Republicans are proving that government by campaign slogan isn’t just dishonest; it’s dangerous to the health of this Commonwealth and this nation. President Obama, Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.), and our Virginia Democrats in Congress and in state government continue to strive for serious solutions to serious and complex problems. The sooner the Republicans drop the dogma and come to the table, the sooner we can confront our challenges and build a brighter future for this country.

David Mills is the executive director of the Democratic Party of Virginia.

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