GOP's Good Manners Are Bad Mannerism

What do you get when you cross a dinosaur with a hot dog? Answer: Barney Frank.

And that’s no joke. The man has been in Congress since prehistoric times and his antennae can detect a camera anywhere in the hemisphere. Guys like him and Rangel and Nadler are pointed out by Capitol tour guides alongside the other antique furnishings. Republicans do not register their presence; they are like the Muzak the inmates can no longer hear in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Yet the presence of these troglodytes enables the Democrats to seem like a real alternative party for voters to consider. After all, they are relics from the era of the Democrat majority.  

Why are they not challenged? Presumably because their districts are immune to other viewpoints. Radical liberalism has become so entrenched in those constituencies that it is impervious to such niceties as hard evidence. Furthermore, the accrual of time has made them pillars of the institution. By this logic, it would be unseemly for Republicans to paint targets on their backs. The devoirs and courtesies extended to such legends preclude serious electoral scrimmage.

Well, pardon my iconoclasm, but color me skeptic. I think those who are petrified are not seeing the forest for the trees. Barney and Friends may be deadwood and accomplish little, but they are seen as redwoods by young Democrats. They have logged enough hours; it is time for us to do some logging. We have men of timber who can help them pack their trunks.  

Beyond this group of annoying oldsters, the critique against the lack of Republican aggressiveness is a broad one. Clearly there is a faulty strategy in place if every second year brings new talk of the Dems being within range of reseizing control of Congress. The answer is that the RNC goes after weak Democrats but not after strong ones. The defeat of Daschle in 2004, just like the ousting of Foley a decade earlier, was a grass-roots effort by an upstart candidate rather than a top-down effort to fell a mighty oak. It is a poor war that is fought only by sniping at stragglers.

The Democrats, by contrast, always go after the Republican leadership types, from Gingrich to Livingstone to Delay to Santorum, by any means at their disposal. They will box by ballot, divest by suit or get a man canned hard by a canard. No tactic is too base if that tack is the ticket to throw the big man off base. They understand that one bullet in the head does more damage than a load of buckshot in the legs.

The only way that a comfortable majority can be achieved is by taking aim at the big guns.  Candidates need to be recruited in the areas represented by these powerhouses-qua-blowhards. Those candidates then need to be funded, and not skimpily.  The RNC usually outdoes the DNC in fundraising, yet practices a weird frugality in denying funds to uphill battlers. When I was campaign manager for a fellow running against a big Dem in 1996, the RNC told me they could not give me a dime until a poll proved that I had achieved 45 percent voter support. Talk about the classic Catch-22: you can’t gain traction without money but you won’t receive money until you gain traction.

Going after the leaders of the other party is easier for the majority party. They can speak softly but still carry a big stick. For example, it is possible to freeze the targeted member’s ability to confer favors. Many of the services that a minority-party Congressman can offer to his voters are his by the grace of the majority. That can be shut down hard. Any door that Republican power can close should be latched tight, and the fingerprints wiped off the doorknob.

That shutdown can often be exacerbated by letting the next closest Republican stand by to help as much as possible. For example, if you paralyze Rep. Kendrick Meek (in my Florida neighborhood) and make him ineffective, you see to it that Sen.Martinez, newly elected Republican, has a magic touch in Meek’s area.  It is no easy task to keep getting reelected if you can deliver absolutely nothing. The leader seen as otiose soon becomes odious.

No more Mr. Nice Guy; it is neither deserved nor reciprocated. Republicans need to fight smarter. While they mind their manners, they fail to mind the manor. It is time to make Barney Frank extinct, and to do it with relish.