Some conservatives have rightly questioned whether, after the November elections, they should expect to be disappointed by the new GOP majority(ies?). I hesitate to say we shouldn't ask that question because I remember being young and very excited about the elections in 1994--only to slowly watch my enthusiasm drip away. It is true that there is an undeniable tendency for members of Congress and the Senate to "go native." People rather thought that because the freshmen class of 1994 was so large, there would be a bulwark against that tendency. In retrospect, it seems that it was not large enough.
Maybe I'm just not old enough to know better than to be more hopeful this time, but I'll venture my reasons for my optimism anyway. In the first place, the candidates. Take a look, for example, at this op-ed written by Teresa Collett
, candidate for Minnesota's 4th Congressional District. She is not merely spouting off a laundry list of to-do items for when she lands the seat--she's talking about a fundamental shift in the way people view government. She's talking about an understanding of rights and of popular sentiment and of the sovereignty of the people under law. This is not your father's Republican party.
In the second place, as Collett notes, Republicans are finally getting around to remembering and articulating their roots and how those differ from the Democrats. That's important because it shows that Republicans no longer understand themselves as merely representing a different collection of interests than those represented by the Democrats. They understand themselves to be offering a completely different understanding of liberty. And now, they mean to defend it. "While the Democrats still believe government is the source of liberty,
most Republicans finally have remembered that liberty is the natural
right of the people, not a gift from government," Collett says.
Finally, Collett makes note of Obama's and the Democrats' annoyance with Americans for their inclination now to "stand up"--as she calls it--and demand that their government respect their liberty. I am, in the end, most optimistic because I am so encouraged by this movement of the people. The Tea Party--or whatever we want to call this mass swing in public opinion and engagement--is something to behold. That it has continued to take hold and grow, as it has done, is remarkable to me. If there are parts of it that are sometimes unwieldy, that almost makes me even more encouraged because it demonstrates how genuine and grass-roots it really is. It's not--as was the Obama wave--a top down following of hypnotized robots grasping at undefined and undefinable platitudes. This actually means something. People want a smaller, more responsible, less bumbling, and--above all--more Constitutional government that respects their sovereignty. They don't want this merely because some messiah has come to tell them they ought to want it. They want it because they have seen and felt what it means to live under the opposite. They've had enough.
I think it is going to take a very long time for the Democrats to undo what their over-reaching and hubris have done. And I think it will be an equally long time before the usual suspects will be comfortable with their default positions of power within the GOP. A great many of the old guard and those new guys who wanted to join them, are going to find themselves having to answer to a different master. There will be homework, as some teachers might say. I am smiling.
There's a part of me -- a large part -- that hopes the GOP does not gain control of both houses. One is okay. Both would be a disaster. It would give Obama a foil to rail against. Plus, it would allow the GOP to settle back into status quo.
Revitalization of the GOP will require multiple election cycles ... perhaps three or four. They can't rest on a 2010 sweep. Must keep pushing.
In fairness to the former Republican caucus, they were stymied by a number of factors:
1. The President for the 1st half of their majority was an antagonist.
2. The President for the 2d half was ambivalent about domestic reforms, promoting some (experimentation with individual accounts for Social Security and promotion of improved accounting practices for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) while offering other legislation that exacerbated extant problems (the prescription drug benefit, No-Child-Left-Behind, discretionary tax cuts).
3. They generally had very modest pluralities in the House of Representatives, and could be readily frustrated by a small borderline caucus (Christopher Shays, &c) conjoined to members for whom particular local interests would be injured by a given piece of legislation.
4. The Senate's asinine parliamentary rules present all sorts of opportunities for illegitimate obstruction. It has been amusing to see the Democrats ox gored by this as well.
5. The Senate majority leader was initially Robert Dole ("the classic Capitol Hill apparatchik" quoth Michael Kinsley) succeeded by Trent Lott (the worst sort of career hack - a man who had been on the payroll of the U.S. Congress since he had completed his schooling at age 25).
6. The Speaker of the House had...uh...issues.
1 -- ditto if GOP takes Congress
2 -- uncertain at this time
3 -- doubt the GOP will get super majorities
4 -- rules persist
5 -- who will be GOP senate majority leader assuming they take that house? Orin Hatch? Mitch McConnell? Any improvement there?
6 -- Boehner seems destined ... any chance he'll succumb to Gingrich-itis?
3. The Republican caucus had between 220 and 232 seats during that twelve year period. A plurality of about 30 seats might be enough to frustrate refractory member of the caucus.
4. The worst abuses (the indefinite holds on nominees and 'cadillac' filibusters) were instituted only about 35 years ago. A comprehensive solution to the problems presented by the Senate as we know it is an eschatological concept. A return of obstructive opportunities to what they were just a little over a generation ago would not be. The Republican Congress elected in 1994 put term limits on committee chairs (which the Democratic caucus then abolished four years ago so Bwaney Fwank could be Banking Committee Chair-for-Life).
5. No improvement expected.
6. I think Dr. Gingrich's problems (as described by William Paxon) are not the sort that appear in late middle age. (No, I do not care for Boehner, either).
One of Robert Dole's agreeable aspects was an understanding of accounting identities and distaste for public sector borrowing. Am not hopeful on that score with regard to either caucus, unless PIMCO cuts them off at the bar (which will throw us all into 'interesting times' as the Chinese curse puts it).
There are two reasons why the Republicans will truly become the party of small government in deed as they are in name:
1. The freshman congressmen will be true-believers when it comes to rolling back the size and scope of government, and their zeal will stiffen the spines of the Old Guard and scare the party's spenders into submission. The GOP will be picking up approximately 50 seats in the House - most of those pick-ups will be candidates who campaigned against Obamacare and its repeal if possible, out-of-control government spending (still no federal budget), dealing with the debt, the expansion of government, etc. These individuals will not be able to sell their constituents short and hope to be elected again in two years. The Senate also has some encouraging new-joins, particularly impressive are Rubio and Miller (and you think Angle will go along with earmarks?).
2. The Republicans know that the only reason they're making such gains is because of the Tea Party, and the Tea Partiers have made it clear they're here to stay. If the Republicans do not adhere to a monk-like austerity while they're running the show, you can rest assured that there will be third party candidates springing up all over the country at every level of government.
If they screw this up the Republican Party won't be around in 10 years.
I think Peter Lawler's observation that things are always getting better and worse is useful here. The Republicans of 1994 did succeed in reforming AFDC, controling spending and (at the state and local level and often imitated by Democrats) introducing policing and punishment policies that helped drive down the violent crime rate substantially.
The current Republicans in Congress seem to be more interested in controling domestic discretionary spending than they were back when Ted Stevens was threatening to lay down his life (and what is more his Senate seat) in defense of the Bridge to Nowhere. That's a good thing but we will not be saved by such measures even if they are encacted. The congressional Republicans have not come up with a either an entitlement and health care policy reform program that combines policy soundness and political prudence to near maximum degree possible, nor a rhetoric for selling such a program. I don't think they have one and are just holding it back to spring it on the country at the right time.
Paul Ryan and some others aside, I think most House congressional Republicans are more interested in chairmanships and the perks of majority status than any particular policy issue. The next time Boehner impresses will be the first. His greatest accomplishment of the moment is that by being so incredibly boring, and saying nothing of consequence, he was able to frustrate White House attempts to demonize him to swing voters.
I think that the best hope for the country comes from figures like Cristie, Daniels, Jindals, and McDonnell, both as future presidential candidates and in inspiring some imitation from politicians at the federal level.