Where Have All the Conservatives Gone?

Today, many GOP supporters talk of the 1994 sweep by Republicans as a moment in time.

The newly elected Republican majority has sealed its "Contract with America" by the very votes it received from the electorate.

As dozens of freshman House members assumed their elected offices, they happened to also assume the mantle of responsibility in regard to the electorate’s want — and need — for change.

After 40-plus years of Democratic rule and ideology in the House of Representatives, the voters could not have spoken any clearer. The American people, quite simply, wanted and demanded by virtue of their votes, good governance.

That was in 1994, when it was good to be conservative in ideology, and most importantly, in practice.

In 2006, Republicans, who hold the majority of power throughout Washington these days, have fallen short.

In the House, the leadership of Speaker Dennis Hastert (R.-Ill.) has generally been average to fair, but also politically motivated, even to the degree of bad legislation.

It is this "legislation for legislation’s sake" that drives conservatives to take a — metaphorically speaking — apathetic leap off a cliff and into the somewhat vast demographic known as the "non-voter."

In the Senate, things have even been worse. In the world’s most deliberative political body, these 100 lords of the land (or so you would think, the way these monuments to self-centered indulgence carry on) debate as if each one of them were robbed of their natural and proper birthright: the presidency of the United States.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) has only lately began to show a few tentative signs of leadership, but one wonders if the senator from Tennessee is a day late and a dollar short.

Frist has allowed the "principled and courageous" moderate wing of the GOP to run roughshod (read as: bad legislation) over not only most the President’s second term legislation and agenda, but the conservatives in the Senate as well.

How important and prevalent are the conservatives around the country? Ask future presidential candidate John McCain after he loses in 2008, and you may find out. Though conservatives seem not to rank within Washington proper, it is a far different view outside the beltway.

Though conservatives outnumber both moderate and liberal Republicans in both houses of Congress, one might hardly think so. For validation, one might look at nearly all the legislation that has made it out of that chamber.

From immigration, to the recent tax cut package, and all the way back to the "cover my incumbent-butt" Hurricane Katrina billion-dollar giveaway, conservative principle in the Senate was about as rare as Hillary Clinton wearing a blue dress.

But don’t blame the Democrats, folks. After all, they did just fine as Washington’s political powerbrokers when they were running the country.

Eventually though, power will corrupt most of the time. Over the span of time, Democrats became complacent and expectant, and finally, abusive while in power.

But the same paucity of purpose and haughtiness of office that eventually ended the 40-plus years of rule now infuse the ranks of the GOP.

Gone are the heady days of the "Gingrich Revolution" and the GOP’s "Contract with America." In its place, an unsettling sense by those voters who helped propel the class of 1994 to victory that the actual wall of separation between the two major political parties is, at first blush, thick with ideology, but in reality, something else entirely.

Though politicians tend to lay it on thick when on the campaign trail trolling for votes, the legislation coming out of Washington these days is uncomfortably reed-thin in practice.

Aside from the "R" and "D" that follows everyone that works and lives inside the beltway, there isn’t much else that separates the political class.

Certainly, it seems that official Washington increasingly looks to the people as a hindrance — to be dealt with offhandedly, and with contempt. The idea of actually serving the needs of the constituency that they represent seems abstract to say the least.

Polls throughout the years have basically indicated that Americans are fed-up with Congress, and are generally untrusting of either party. But the onus will fall unto the Republicans, as being in power makes all the difference in the world, though one could say that the two major political parties in power bear a distinction without a difference these days.

The GOP has a way to go in order to turn the tide of defeatism and disappointment that lives within the hearts of the party faithful. It remains to be seen if recent events — like the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the tough spending caps that Bush has demanded — will help the GOP regain its footing come November.

But I know one thing that is certain, because we have seen it happen before our eyes: If it is truly a "distinction without a difference" regarding the Democrats and Republicans, then there is no distinction to be made at the ballot box this year.

In politics, there are few fates worse for a movement than losing its identity.

Republicans, the bell tolls for thee. If it is to be the Republicans’ winter of discontent, then it will be of their own doing. Instead, why not be distinctive from the other guy, and make a difference.