The Times They Are a-Changin'

Let there be no doubt and no spin. The  takeover of the House of Representatives and Senate is a solid repudiation of President Bush’s policy in Iraq. It’s not that the American people don’t want to win in Iraq—it’s that they want to win NOW!

Democrats, led by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D.-Ill.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.), tapped into that impatience, and ran on the platform of “change.” Just what that change may be, they wouldn’t say, except that they want to begin troop withdrawals from Iraq as soon as possible. It’s entirely possible that we’ll simply “redeploy” as Rep. John Murtha (D.-Pa.) has suggested—the old strategy of “declare victory and leave.”

This, of course, would plunge Iraq into a full-scale civil war and might conceivably create a major staging area for terrorists there. But, hey! That’s change!

On the spending front, Democrats were able to tap into conservative disgust over the big-spending habits of Republicans. This turned into one of those political anomalies that occur in strange election cycles like this one: The party of fiscal conservatism was spending itself silly and so smaller government advocates kicked them out.

And installed Democrats—the party of Big Government.

It’s hard to see any scenarios in which Democrats will champion the cause of ending earmarks. They have already promised to increase the minimum wage (as if government should have any role in setting private salaries), increase the pharmaceutical benefits and roll back the Bush tax cuts. If they cut any spending at all, it will likely be military spending. But that’s change!

On the immigration issue, President Bush can actually feel some vindication from the poll results. Most of the Democrats have been in lock step with his guest-worker program, his path to citizenship for illegal aliens, and his amnesty plan. It was the House Republicans led by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.) that insisted on enforcement of our laws. Some of those House Republicans, including Arizona’s J. D. Hayworth, have been thrown out.

That means we’ll get the President’s immigration policy and all the cheap labor that Big Business can use—and more! What we probably won’t get is a 700-mile border fence. Those who hire illegals can stop worrying about government raids and increased penalties. The bottom-up government movement that has been emanating from towns such as Hazleton, Pa., and Farmers Branch, Tex., has certainly been slowed if not stopped. The people voted for change.

With all this change in the wind, the old guard of the Republican Party must now understand that their time is over. Bush had four good years, two tough ones, and now faces two that will be irrelevant. The mandate now transfers to the Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.). Rumsfeld is already history and other names like Bush, Cheney, and Rice will begin to fade. The “Architect” Karl Rove was bested by Emanuel and Schumer. The era of compassionate conservatism is over.

The Republicans need a savior around whom they can rally—someone to emerge Reagan-like from the pack to bring the party back to its conservative roots and reenergize the base. The current front-runners for 2008, Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, seem unlikely to fill the role. McCain is too weak on immigration and Giuliani is too liberal.

The GOP needs change. Maybe it will come in the form of a dark horse candidate like Representative Tom Tancredo (R.-Colo.) or Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.). Maybe a reconstituted Newt Gingrich can repeat his triumphs of 1994. Maybe it will be someone that no one is even considering right now.

Whoever it turns out to be, this person will need Reagan-like charisma to stand before the microphones and cameras and explain why the Republicans won’t screw up again if given another chance. He or she will have to separate the parties in the voters’ minds:  How are the Republicans different—and better? Perhaps most important, can the Republicans be trusted to follow through with their conservative values.

They didn’t always do that during the Bush years. And the people voted for change.