The Republican Party must reject its leaders’ cringing defeatism over the fiscal cliff talks.
Consider the situation: With a president from one political party and a House speaker from the other, some kind of compromise should obviously be needed to pass tax hikes and other major pieces of legislation.
That being so, the president would have to make concessions to Congress and not cling dogmatically to his position concerning taxes. In the end he would reluctantly yield to this advice and agree to back off from his long-held views, in exchange for spending measures supposedly accepted by the speaker. Unless the president did this, analysts argued, he would be blamed for the breakdown of the fiscal system.
If that scenario seems oddly parallel to things occurring now, but totally different in terms of substance, it‚??s because the episode in question happened 30 years ago, when the Republican Ronald Reagan was in the White House and the House Speaker was the Democrat Tip O‚??Neill. Today the institutional face-off is the same, but the partisan factors are reversed, as we have a Democratic president but a House speaker from the GOP.
Also reversed, of course, are the dynamics of the process. Back then, the pressures to cave were converging relentlessly on the Reagan White House, while today they are focused strictly on the GOP in Congress. The Republicans, we hear from many quarters, were crushed in this year‚??s voting and so must give in to the powerful Barack Obama, on taxes and a good deal else, because, after all, he won the election.
The contrast becomes more vivid still when we note the differing electoral outcomes preceding the two showdowns. In 1980, Reagan trounced Jimmy Carter by 10 percentage points in the popular vote and racked up a massive landslide in the electoral college (489 to 49) ‚?? numbers far in excess of the totals attained this year by Obama (a slender three point margin in the popular vote, 332 electors to 206 for Mitt Romney.)
Yet no cries were heard back then that the Democrats were crushed, had to knuckle under to the White House, or that Reagan should be able to work his will unhindered. On the contrary, the Democrats in Congress and the press corps fought him all the way, and did so even more bitterly after 1984 when he was triumphantly re-elected (525 electoral votes, to 13 for his opponent, 49 states to one, a margin of roughly 20 percent in the popular voting). If that were all there was to the story, we would simply have the umpteenth chapter in a book entitled ‚??liberal double standards‚?Ě (which in fact is a single standard, concerning what is good for liberals).
There is, however, much more to the comparison than that, since nowadays doom-and-gloom pronouncements saying the GOP is finished and must change its stance on taxes and other issues, give in to Obama and otherwise surrender, are coming from political sectors that are nominally Republican and conservative, including spokesmen on TV and in the press corps.
This counsel of despair, though unjustified by the factual record, is immensely damaging in its impact, since demands for Republican cave-in are far more harmful coming from self-styled conservatives than from the usual liberal suspects. Nothing could be more demoralizing to members of the rank and file than this litany of doom from people they believe in. Such cringing defeatism must be rejected, the more so as the data from this year‚??s voting emphatically don‚??t support it.
Thus, looking further at election figures, we find that, while the GOP this year lost two seats in the Senate (where it still maintains a cloture-blocking 45), the party maintained its sizable margin in the House. In 2010, the party took a staggering 63 seats away from the Democrats, and this year gave up exactly eight‚??making a net Republican gain of 55 since the elections of 2008. The GOP thus has a comfortable House majority of more than 30 seats ‚?? though you could hardly guess it from the wailing and teeth-gnashing coming from some TV pundits and syndicated wise men.
Also, the most impressive Republican stat of all, the party now boasts no fewer than 30 governors‚??60 percent of the nation‚??s total‚??representing more than 50 percent of the country‚??s population. The GOP picked up one of these statehouses this year, adding to what was already a record total, losing no ground at all to the supposedly all-conquering opposition.
Added to which is one more astonishing footnote. As of this year‚??s election, there are 37 states that have one-party rule–governor‚??s mansion and both legislative chambers controlled by a single party. Of these, 24 are in the hands of the GOP, 13 run by their opponents. Again, something nobody could possibly figure out by listening to the recent lamentations.
Interestingly, when this Republican dominance is referred to, it isn‚??t said to mean that the Democrats have been routed and must change their ways or perish. That thought apparently occurs to no one. The lesson instead, we are informed, is the danger of ‚??polarization‚??‚?Ě and the need for measures to correct this. Funny how these sage analyses run in only one direction, leading to the conclusion that the GOP is dead or dying, and must adopt the views of its liberal critics. Some alleged conservatives, sad to say, have bought into this bogus notion.
In fact, as this column noted four years ago, after the loss by John McCain, the party has bounced back from positions far weaker than its current stance (and did just that in 2010), by stressing, not running away from, its core convictions. It can build even more effectively on the solid foundations of the present, but only if it ignores the defeatist droning of people who were not around for the hard-fought battles of the early Reagan era, and thus have no clue as to why there was ever a Reagan White House to begin with.
P.S. As is well known, but constantly bears repeating, the three dollars in spending cuts that Reagan was promised by the Democrats, in exchange for every dollar of increased taxes, never happened.