We are hearing all sorts of reasons why the GOP got, in George Bush’s word, “thumped.” We’re told it was Iraq, or that it was the incompetence and corruption of some of its members. Some cited the unpopularity of the president, implying that it rubbed off on the House members who went down to defeat last Tuesday.
While there is some validity to all these complaints, they miss the mark by ignoring the real cause of the Nov. 7 electoral disaster – the fact that Republicans had stopped acting the way Republicans are meant to act, and began acting as clones of big-government, big-spending Democrats.
In September of last year I wrote that unless congressional Republicans put the break on spending “you can bet that the Republican Party is going to lose control of Congress next year, and with Democrats in power government spending will go through the roof.”
In 1994 the Republicans took control of Capitol Hill, mostly on the strength of the Contract with America. Over time that contract with America turned into the contract on America.
The GOP leadership allowed some of their number to corrupt their own party. In the notorious, pork-laden “bridge-to-nowhere” transportation bill last year they promised certain earmark goodies to certain members of Congress if they would support the bill. They might have called that politics, but I call it bribery.
That bill contained a mind-boggling 6,371 pet projects, or earmarks. In contrast, my Dad, Ronald Reagan, once vetoed a highway bill because it was loaded down with a mere 152 pet projects.
Over time, the Republican Party gradually became the party they replaced. The line between the two parties got so blurred that it was hard do tell the difference between Democrats and Republicans. In that case, allegiance to a party goes out the window when the public can’t tell the difference between their party and the opposition, and they just rise up and throw the bums out and start all over.
As far as the Iraq war is concerned, the president got the message Tuesday: It’s time to win the war and stop having people micro-manage it from Washington. That’s what lost the war in Vietnam. Moreover, he was told to allow the military to do what the military does best: win the war – forget the tender sensibilities of the anti-war peaceniks and kill people and break things if you have to and, above all, win.
I’m convinced that had the president replaced Donald Rumsfeld six months ago, the GOP would have won the elections Tuesday. He became the face of a war the public believes has been badly mishandled, and by keeping him around the president continually reminded the public of just how badly the war was going.
Writing in the Thursday’s Opinion Journal, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey recalled that the Republican takeover in 1994 “was the culmination of years of agitation by a relatively small group of political entrepreneurs in the House.”
Before this small group could beat the Democrats and their "culture of corruption," he wrote, they had to beat “the old bulls of our own party,” who were also “driven by a parochial vision, and had grown complacent with the crumbs offered them by the majority.”
The Contract with America, Armey explained, established “a national (as opposed to a parochial) vision for the Republican Party. When we took control, that positive Reagan vision of limited government and individual responsibility provided a great deal of discipline and allowed us to govern accordingly. Our primary question in those early years was: How do we reform government and return money and power back to the American people?”
Eventually, he continued, “the policy innovators and the ‘Spirit of ’94’ were largely replaced by political bureaucrats driven by a narrow vision. Their question became: How do we hold onto political power? The aberrant behavior and scandals that ended up defining the Republican majority in 2006 were a direct consequence of this shift in choice criteria from policy to political power.”
If they ever expect to regain control of Congress, Republicans are going to have to start being Republicans again.
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