GOP: The gang that wouldnt shoot straight
Conventional political wisdom supports the mantra of the late Speaker of the House, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, that “All politics is local.” But we have seen two mid-term elections, in 1994 and 2006, where national concerns trumped local issues. If that trend continues, then we may be moving toward a parliamentary political system like that of the British.
In 1994, the Clintons’ 1992 proposal to bring socialized medicine to America was countered by the after-glow of the Reagan Revolution and by the follow-on Gingrich Revolution. The success of the Contract With America reforms (notably welfare) led to12 years of GOP majorities in the House and, for much of that time, a GOP majority in the Senate – even though skillful obstructionism in the Senate by the Democrats and by some Republicans-In-Name-Only made the Senate a political wasteland.
But, in 2006, disappointment with the failure of Republican leadership in Congress to continue with the Reagan/Gingrich Revolutions, plus disappointment with the progress of Iraq toward a peaceful, stable, democracy, led to Democrat majorities in both Houses. Therefore, if history repeats itself, the White House in the hands of one party and the Congress under the control of the other party will result in deadlock. So, for those who do not want government to do anything to begin with, the next two years will be just fine.
Voters tend to understand that some elected officials, irrespective of political party, will succumb to greed and/or engage in improper sexual conduct. So, voters throw them out of office on an individual basis. But the collective failure of Republicans to shoot straight by stopping the practice of secret “earmarking” of tax dollars for pork-barrel projects was seen in this election as emblematic of a spending culture (on both sides of the political aisle) the Republicans had the power to stop and did not.
Republicans can learn some valuable lessons from the loss of the mid-term congressional lessons. The chief of which is: Do what you were sent to Washington to do! The 2006 mid-term elections were not a rejection of the principles embodied by the Reagan/Gingrich Revolutions. They were a rejection of the Republican leadership that failed: (1) to achieve a smaller, more accountable government and (2) to do something meaningful about securing our borders.
It may be too soon to tell if the use of congressional elections as a form of national referendum is a true trend. But if we are creeping toward the British model of national, parliamentary elections, then our two major political parties will need to become much stronger and be able to enforce a lot more party discipline.
Unfortunately, for advocates of such a system, so-called campaign finance reform laws such as McCain-Feingold and its state-level variations have undermined the accountability we once had under the formerly strong, two-party system. Today, multi-millionaires, using the tax-dodge of the “527 Organizations,” can funnel millions of dollars into the election or reelection campaigns of their favorite candidates with little or no accountability, with full disclosure coming long after the votes have been cast.
Under these reduced financial circumstances, the political parties have less ability to enforce party discipline, such as telling a congressperson in a safe seat to stay seated rather than pursue some other personal, political ambition. Rather than being a meaningful political rallying cry, “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party,” is truly just an exercise for touch typists.
Thus, it is more likely that the Communications Revolution, rather than political parties, will be the key factor in continuing along the path of congressional elections being a form of national referendum. The “old,” liberal-TV media reach about 30 million households versus only about three million homes for the “new,” conservative-TV media, so Republicans are at a decided disadvantage in returning Congress to the Reagan/Gingrich Revolutions they promised, but did not deliver.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist, a featured commentator for USA Today and self-described “recovering lawyer and philosopher,” is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2006. William Hamilton.