The GOP's Warning Bells Are Ringing

A favorite gag down here in Florida goes like this: The doctor concludes his examination of the oldster and sighs: “Sam, I’m not a miracle worker. I can’t make you any younger.” To which Sam replies: “Don’t worry, Doc. All I’m asking is for you to make sure I get older.” That about describes the mindset of Republicans at this moment. They just want to get past Election Day with their jobs intact. To get there, they must shake the prevailing mood—which is moody.

Enter Republican headquarters and you see no sign of a party. It looks more like the set of a new film, “Glum and Glummer.” They have reached optimum pessimism. The more rosy scenarios have given way to the morose. Even the paper airplanes have droopy wings. The water cooler is lukewarm, as is the coffee. People are pecking idly at their keyboards, trying to figure out how to get the squiggle over the second E in “résume~.” It is an Irish wake without the ale and they sing “Denny Boy” off-key.

A diffident intern enters with a piece of paper, clearing his throat until all eyes turn warily, wearily, his way. “Good news,” he announces. “Corker is up in Tennessee, Kean is strengthening in Jersey, George Allen solidifying in Virginia and we even have a shot at taking down the Democrat governor in Oregon.” Suddenly heads are perking up, eyes begin to twinkle and a buzz of conversation rises rapidly to a crescendo. Can it be? Is there life after death?

Yes, Virginia, there is a sanity clause. In the cold light of day, previously hot-under-the-collar voters cool to their weird new Democrat companions. They prefer Macaca Allen to the macabre liberals and the grizzly Hastert to the grisly Pelosi. Your average Joe may mumble and grumble as the Republicans fumble and bumble, but he does not want to see the nation tumble and crumble in the Democrat jumble. The Republicans will press on and survive the full-court press by the press.

But there has got to be a morning after. Lessons must be learned. Conclusions must be drawn. When there is a close call, someone must pick up the phone. Reluctant re-election happens once; if no rapprochement between voter and representative is achieved in the coming two years, there will be no next time. These two years must be a term of endearment, or else they will hear the expletives. The Republican base has an acid taste in its mouth and the party must acknowledge its scope.

My suggestion is to gather the “class of 2006” for a special post-election convention, similar to what the new victors did in 1994. A series of planks should be adopted by this gang who almost walked the plank. These commitments should be relatively modest but clearly substantive. Promise that amount of what the people want that you can reasonably expect to deliver.

This will send a signal to the voters that their voices are heard, not only when they speak in negative tones but even in hesitantly positive tones. If the folks in the heartland are taken once more for granted, we must grant them they are being taken. The voters will tighten their leash while the reps take a bow and wow them. If the congressmen cling to their role as loose cannons, they will be cannon fodder next time around. No more little toes going to market; now they all have to stay home and toe the line.

Complacency is the scourge. Smugness is the downfall. The smirk will land you in the murk. The shrug will sweep you under the rug. Tunnel vision will bury you under a groundswell. Insularity will not protect you from a shock. Hanging out with the insiders will guarantee your becoming an outsider. Acting entitled will soon end your title.

The barely surviving Republican majority must look at Ney and DeLay, Cunningham and Foley, and say that there but for the grace of the special prosecutor go I. In the old George Burns gag, the doctor examines Sam and says: “I can’t do anything for you bad leg. Remember, it is 80 years old.” Sam, never at a loss for words, responds: “The other leg is the same age and it is doing just fine.” Uh, uh, at your age … only if you take good care of it.