A worthy successor to the Contract with America

Third, the opening lines. Here, the Pledge wins hands down. “America is more than a country” is a simple but profound statement that says so much in just a few words. By comparison, the Contract began with language that sounded like it was spoken by Sir Lawrence Olivier in some film about Shakespeare: “As Republican Members of the House of Representatives and as citizens seeking to join that body we propose not just to change its policies, but even more important, to restore the bonds of trust between the people and their elected representatives.” Any sentence that has more than 40 words cannot possibly be effective. And frankly, any opening sentence that includes the word “Republican” is spring-loaded for failure. This year, the authors of the Pledge understand that it’s not about them, the Republicans; it’s about you, the American people. Once again, the Pledge wins.

Fourth, the specifics. The Contract offered a detailed course of action. In fact, it proposed eight major reforms, including the first independent audit of Congress and a cut in the congressional budget and staffing, that House members promised to pass (and did) on their very first day in office. The Pledge has no equivalent — a glaring omission.

Fifth and finally, the closing lines. For those who read it, the effectiveness of the Contract was in the perception that it was a binding document with an enforcement clause. “If we break this contract, throw us out. We mean it.” That was written in large, bold letters at the bottom of the TV Guide version, and it is one of the most powerful statements in the document. For the first time in American politics, a group of elected officials explicitly invited their constituents to toss them from office if they failed to do what they promised. (It took Americans 12 years to take them up on that offer.)