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November 15, 2006

Republicans Come in Models, Too


The Republican Congress is a lot like a sports car. When brand new, it runs splendidly, gets you where you need go and doesn’t cost much to get fixed. It generally serves you well. This is not to mention that it becomes the envy of others, such the Canadian guy living in your basement or the Mexican neighbors on the other side of the fence. Even the local Bin Laden kids scratch its doors just to spite you, before resuming construction on their fort in the French couple’s backyard down the street.


But inevitably, at some point the thing has to go. After working nonstop for a dozen years, even the most reliable of sports cars develops it problems and breaks down regularly. And, as much as you love it, it just stops serving its original purpose, and the need arises for you to purchase a new one. So you get rid of it, and until you find a new one, you drive your mother’s car. It’s a huge, ugly vehicle that smells of dead animals, and of course, it’s an unbelievable gas guzzler. It costs you a lot to operate it, embarrasses you in front of the neighbors and gives you a largely undesirable experience. But you do it anyway.


After shopping around for your next sports car, you find the perfect candidate. It looks a lot like your old car – identical size, similar seats, reaches the same speeds and perhaps even has the same color. However, small but key changes in the engine and design makes it the new, fully functioning vehicle you are so proud of. Acquiring this car feels like… 2008. Well, for those a bit less clairvoyant, let’s just say for now that it feels the same way it felt to get the 1994 model – refreshing and encouraging.


In 1994, Congressional Republicans made a Contract with America, and under Newt Gingrich, they stuck to it. Congress soon achieved valuable reforms, moving the country forward. With time, however, legislators got a bit too comfortable, with many becoming corrupt or abandoning their principles in favor of lobbyists and special interests. And for some strange reason, despite having the clear backing of Americans, Republicans thought it necessary to behave like Democrats in order to retain their majority.


Let’s just say they ran up the miles. They stopped functioning like they did in the ‘90s, and as painful as the thought was to many Americans, voters had to settle for the only available alternative until a new, principled Republican Congress can be acquired.


Congressional Republicans now have a golden opportunity to rejuvenate the party. It is true that 2006 was a bad year for GOP candidates, particularly with the combination of an unpopular war and a president who has fallen out of favor with many Americans. Yet the losses could have certainly been mitigated if leaders had cracked down on corruption, and more importantly, if Congress had not gone on an unstoppable spending spree.


Voters had to choose between a big government, big spending party that damages the economy in favor of special interests and that was responsible for the mess in Iraq on the one hand, and a big government, big spending party that damages the economy in favor of special interests and that opposed the manner in which the Iraq War was handled. The choice was clear. Republicans should in theory have been able to outweigh their Iraq burden by pointing out their fiscal discipline and pro-growth behavior. Regrettably, they failed to give voters enough issues to differentiate them from Democrats, giving people little choice but to cast a foreign policy vote.


The Republicans’ first opportunity to demonstrate their sincerity and willingness to achieve change will come with the election of their new leadership. The conservative Republican Study Committee, which will increase with the membership of the majority of the Republican freshmen (while the liberal Republican Main Street Partnership, incidentally, will shrink), might wield new power as its head, Congressman Pence, pursues the minority’s highest office, with fellow fiscal conservative Congressman Shadegg at his side as minority whip.


Such leadership would almost surely lead to a new Republican Congress in 2008 that is reminiscent of 1994, though the possibility remains that the GOP might continue to see some of the same old for even longer. Yet for better or worse, even if the Republicans fail to come back as a new, attractive sports car, voters in 2008 might find the mother’s vehicle expensive and smelly enough to dump the Democrats in favor of the GOP, in yet another manifestation of the limit of alternatives. Let’s just hope the alternative will be a new model that will last us another dozen years.


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