Did the Republican leadership learn anything on Election Day? Did they finally get it that voters are fed up with politicians who use their office to raise money and get perks? Will the GOP return to the lean, ascetic, committed politics that animated its 1994 surge to power or will it resist change and choose leaders who skate on the edge of corruption in their bid for privilege? And, in the Senate, will the Republicans realize that they need a mechanic who can make the trains run on time to tie the Democrats in knots?
And do the Democrats realize that their surge to the top was not due to the outpouring of true leftist believers but because centrist, moderate candidates won swing states and districts, just as Clinton did in 1996?
The answer to these questions will be apparent in the leadership elections coming soon in both houses of Congress.
In the House, Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) will try to take Dennis Hastert’s place at the head of the diminished ranks of Republicans. This is the same John Boehner who took to the House floor a few years back and distributed checks from tobacco PACs to those congressmen who put their desire for cigarette money ahead of the health of their constituents and voted against government regulation of this hideous industry. This kind of self-serving, money-focused politics is just what landed the GOP in sufficient trouble to lose the House in the first place. Letting the escalator move up one notch and inviting Boehner to head the party’s House delegation will send a clear signal that House Republicans have, like the Bourbon kings of France, in Talleyrand’s words, “learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) represents the kind of politics that puts ideas ahead of cash and privilege. Electing a man with his kind of conservative principles would show that the Republican minority understands the frustration of their base voters who ejected them from the leadership.
By the same token, Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) also stands for principled politics and deserves the support of those who understand what hit them on Nov. 7. Not so of his opponent. Majority Whip Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) wife, Abigail Perlman, and his son, Andrew, both lobby for Altria, which is the newly sanitized name for Philip Morris. If Blunt is limited to the standard congressional salary of $165,500, there is no reason why he shouldn’t take care of his family finances by letting lobbying firms that represent this death-dealing industry hire his son.
Blunt and Boehner deserve to be thrown out of leadership.
In the Senate, Republicans must realize that they lost power because Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) couldn’t find the men’s room, much less understand how to run the floor. He just never understood how to use the arcane rules and traditions of the Senate to get things done. The consensus that the 109th Congress passed almost nothing was not the fault of the House but of the Senate. The lack of a skilled Senate practitioner undermined the Republican Party badly.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will be a vast improvement over Frist. At least he is a politician, not a misplaced doctor. But McConnell will be Mr. Outside, the party’s face to the media. Like former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), he will be an aggressive partisan who will shape the Republican case to the voters and the press. McConnell and the Republicans need to bring back the man who is their answer to Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.): Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss). Lott is a Lyndon Johnson/Richard Russell kind of character who knows how to use the Senate to get things done and enjoys twisting the Democrats into a pretzel.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Lott’s opponent for minority whip, just got to the Senate four years ago after a disastrous run for president. He would make a fine Mr. Outside, but to give him the task of running the vote counts and making the trains run on time is to minimize the importance of this vital function. Lott has been in the Senate 18 years and knows how to implement the wishes of the Republican conference and McConnell, the minority leader.
House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) showed that she is determined to hijack an election won by Democratic moderates and interpret it as a mandate for the extreme left. Her support of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) for majority leader signals that she values ideology over cohesiveness.
Murtha’s rival, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is a moderate who can work to smooth out Pelosi’s rough edges. But Pelosi apparently doesn’t want to be smoothed. She would rather be the Madame Lafarge of the House, knitting an extra stitch for each swipe of the guillotine as it slices off the heads of the very moderates who made her Speaker.