In the end, the Republican "revolution" ran out of gas and out of vision. Too many congressional Republicans appeared to care more about maintaining power than using power to implement an agenda, which they also abandoned.
Republicans reverted to fear tactics about Democrats raising taxes and "cutting and running" from Iraq. Democrats probably will try to raise taxes (they call it "pay as you go") and introduce resolutions to withdraw from Iraq under cover of a "plan" that has little to do with victory. Investigations of the administration will be labeled "oversight," and headed by the most liberal members of the House.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a probable 2008 GOP presidential candidate, said on NBC Tuesday night that too many congressional Republicans had not been "careful stewards of taxpayer dollars," nor had they "adhered to conservative principles." He specifically mentioned such spending boondoggles as Alaska's "bridge to nowhere," numerous earmarks, pork barrel spending and scandals. When Republicans behave like Democrats, they lose. Why should people settle for counterfeits when they can have the genuine article?
Republicans can take some solace that President Bush might veto much of the Democrats' stealth agenda, which they hope he will do. Their objective is to win the White House in 2008 and they will turn the tables on the president if he vetoes their agenda, calling him an "obstructionist," a label he has tried to pin on them. The president would be wise to build relationships, at least with the conservative and more moderate Democrats, in hopes of isolating the liberals.
Republicans lost a significant part of their base in this election. Exit polls revealed nearly one-third of white evangelical Christians voted for Democrats, mostly because of perceived corruption in the GOP. They will continue to exercise influence within the Republican Party, but their days of veto power over policy and candidates may be over.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said he wants to cooperate with Republicans and search for common ground. Voters, who have been sickened (again) by corrosive and negative campaign ads, would appreciate that. But Dean has called Republicans "evil," "corrupt" and "brain-dead." That's not the kind of language that is likely to produce conciliation and comity.
One top House Democrat, who asked to remain anonymous until he sees whether his strategy will work, told me he will ask John Boehner, the current Republican majority leader, for permission to address the GOP caucus. The purpose, he says, would be to build a new relationship and reduce inter-party acrimony. Most people would probably wish him well if it results in progress that would benefit the country.
There are serious issues that must be addressed and resolved. Nice talk won't replace important philosophical differences and differing objectives. Most Americans may be tired of the Iraq war, but our enemies are not tired of it. If the United States pulls out of Iraq before Iraqis are trained and equipped to stand on their own against the insurgent terrorists, the terrorists will inherit a base and export terror around the world, including to the United States.
Democrats pledge to do nothing about Social Security, but this is irresponsible because Social Security cannot be sustained without huge tax increases and/or a sharp reduction in benefits. That is a fact that is beyond debate.
The problem for Republicans is their loss of revolutionary zeal. When Newt Gingrich was forced out as speaker, Republicans lost the best idea man they'd had in years. Speaker Dennis Hastert was rarely seen in public (until the Mark Foley scandal) and he has been more of a cautious manager than a bold leader. The retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has been uninspiring. What happened to eloquent Republicans?
Democrats recruited more moderate and even some conservative candidates to blur their left-wing socialist image. But their party leadership is overwhelmingly liberal. They include Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the latter a self-described "pro-lifer," who voted against the nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, both presumably pro-life, to the Supreme Court.
Will liberal Democrats, despite all their talk of fiscal conservatism, ethical reform and seeking common ground with Republicans, be able to resist the temptations that come with power and privilege? They didn't when they ran the House for 40 years. Washington and its lobbyists have a way of repaving the road of good intentions for a new majority, as they did with the previous one. But that road can still lead to the same destination.
Good luck, Democrats. You'll need it. You have power now and can't blame Republicans (though you'll try) if you fail.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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