Friday, November 17, 2006

What did he do?

The reemergence of Newt as political guru is not all together true, he’s always been around just a little verklempt during the DeLay years. Who wasn't? The Gay Patriot -- yes a conservative homosexual, there are still a few left under the big tent -- had this to say about the demise of the Republican Congressional Majority.

If there was one event which would serve as a harbinger of the Republican Congress' retreat from its Reaganite principles and defeat in last week's election, it was the 1994 election for majority whip. After the Republicans won the a majority in the House for the first time in forty years, Pennsylvania's Robert S. Walker, then-incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich's best friend, "was initially favored to win the contest." But, Tom DeLay, having raised money for many of the newly elected Republicans that year, won 52 votes out of the 73 GOP freshmen in the 104th Congress.

And while DeLay was an effective whip, he was less interested in advancing conservative ideas than was Walker. Five years before his election as Whip, he "managed the campaign" of then-Minority Leader Robert Michel's choice for party whip, Edward Madigan against Newt Gingrich. That is, he supported the status quo against "the forces of change."

By contrast, Walker was, with Gingrich, one of the founding members of the Conservative Opportunity Society (COS), a group of House Republicans committed to building on the ideas of Ronald Reagan to build a Republican majority. While committed to the principles which animated the party, the COS was often at odds with the House GOP leadership.

Perhaps had Walker won that election, he might have helped the GOP stand true to the principles he had long promoted. Instead, Tom DeLay sought to retain Republican power by the means the Democrats has used when they were in the majority, building alliances with lobbyists and using earmarks to set-aside pork for the districts of the various representatives. So brazen had DeLay been in pursuit of this agenda that he even set up a web site for his K Street Project, a program which demanded that "lobbying firms seeking access hire loyal Republicans."

Whereas Gingrich and Walker built a Republican majority by appealing to the conservative ideas which had been -- and still are* -- gaining increasing favor with the American people, DeLay sought to maintain that majority by traditional political means. But, losing sight of principle and relying on "traditional political means" made corruption all the easier. And corruption had a significant impact in last week's GOP loss. As Karl Rove put it in an interview with Time's Mike Allen:

The profile of corruption in the exit polls was bigger than I'd expected. . . . Abramoff, lobbying, Foley and Haggard [the disgraced evangelical leader] added to the general distaste that people have for all things Washington, and it just reached critical mass.

(Via OpinionJournal Political Diary (available by subscription).) Too focused on maintaining their power, House Republicans became cozy with the establishment they had been elected to confront.

And Democrats won this year largely by running against that establishment.

As House Speaker-designate Pelosi supports a man which one left-wing group calls "one of the most unethical members in Congress, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), to be Majority Leader of the House of Representatives" and backs an impeached federal judge for head of the House Intelligence Panel, it appears she is willing to embrace the corrupt establishment against which her party so recently -- and successfully -- ran.

But, if my party wishes to recapture the majority, it won't be enough just to run against the new majority's casual attitude toward corrupt leaders, our party must return to the principles Gingrich and Walker so effectively championed in the early 1990s. House leadership elections matter. Bob Walker's loss in 1994 all but guaranteed that the Republicans would lose twelve years hence. … (read the rest)

Anyway, I suppose people are looking at Newt’s long term effort to move the House of Representatives from Democrat to Republican control and trying to glean a few ideas on how to make that happen It’ll happen, perhaps not as fast as some people might like and it’ll certainly depend upon how the pols adjust to their new roles.

If Republicans don’t get over the internal fights and open the party up to more people & policy ideas, and not just for votes and free labor -- really open the culture up so people with slightly different points of view actually feel welcome and not like interlopers -- then it’s going to be a really long time in the wild (I can say this until my head bleeds, but somehow I don’t think it matters.)

If Democrats choose to overreach and decide to spend oodles of money and reinvent whole sections of government, then their’s will be a short-lived majority. Their pandering to public employees and agenda to grow government, highlighted in Culver’s speech nixing any pay-for-performance legislation, is out of touch with what voters want. And without much practice in the art of crafting center-oriented policy this could be the first of many Democratic dives into a shallow pool.

This election was not a referendum on Democrat or Republican core philosophical beliefs; rather, it was an opportunity for voters to give the ill-behaved Republicans a spanking. Voters went around spanking every GOP political culture that could be painted as corrupt regardless of the facts. (I think I might have given fair warning to a Krusty fan back in January that voters might consider heavy-handed legislating on behalf of lobbyist friends to be a problem, oops.) So, we’ve given the reins of power to the Democratic “he did it” finger pointers and it’s a guess how long the anti-Bush & anti-Republican rhetoric minus a solid governing agenda will appeal to voters.

Newt’s big phrase is “real change”, he uses that term constantly -- a sobriquet of sorts -- as a reference point to transmit the idea that this is about breaking bad habits that work against achieving innovative, populist & progressive conservative policy. Not that easy. We all become comfortable in our habits and even with a Newt inspired “ah ha” moment change doesn’t often follow. It’s too easy to slip back into old patterns.

What are the old patterns?

Politics that lack a certain voter recognized humility. Why do you think Jim Leach is beloved by so many voters? This doesn’t mean that you can’t be confrontational or tough minded, but it does require minority members to practice being inclusive and respectful of a variety of opinions. The last thing Republicans need is a minority that can’t hear the whispers and adjust accordingly. That said, once Republicans have reasserted their integrity & humility, taking principled stands on issues will resonate with voters.

Political parties that overly indulge their far right/left members, the fringe is on the edge for a reason. The fact that Bush signed the fence legislation late one evening and without funding speaks volumes about the Republicans discomfort with their far right members. Republicans have too many elected officials mired in small-minded issues that push the caucus way right. Steve King has never pulled in the same level of voter support as Greg Ganske or Tom Latham. In county after county, Steve King underperforms in the most Republican district in Iowa; counties that Ganske & Latham held by 69% (Audubon) & 70% (Carroll) King held onto with only 50%, that’s a twenty-point loss in six years. When you're in the minority, politics rewards calculated risk takers with reasonable voice and not hyper-partisan combatants like DeLay & King.

Political parties that neglect to stick to their core values and fly off on spending and/or policy tangents based on leadership whims are bound to disengage their base. Stick the whole earmark habit under this one and call it “‘nuff said”.

There are probably more habitual patterns to dissect and ultimately break, but I think these are the biggies. Republicans need to practice a little self-reflection and then embrace real change, while the Democrats need to hold on to their centrist spin and hope Republicans take their time in the wilderness.

Spot on. Thank you for this.
If it helps even one person, I'm glad to have invested the time in a potential head bleed.

On holiday, will try to write later this week.
I absolutely agree. The intellectual paradigm, and the policies and politics that would logically follow therefrom, is the foundation upon which our efforts to rebuild the Republican Party here in Iowa, as well as nationally.
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