Debra J. Saunders

Yes, I thought the GOP would do better Tuesday -- I certainly didn't see 28 (as of this writing) House seats going to the Democrats. I thought the GOP was sure to retain the Senate. Democrats beware, however, if you think this was a victory for your party.

As Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen noted in a conference call Wednesday morning, Dems won the House by picking candidates who were "running away" from liberal Democratic positions. Independents, who rejected Bush and congressional GOP leaders, have not signed on to soon-to-be Speaker Nancy Pelosi's agenda.

Yes, I am disappointed. I strongly believe that the precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, which some Democrats support, would consign the more than 2,800 U.S. troops who have died in Iraq to the dubious honor of proving that America is a paper tiger. As Bob Ayers of Chatham House, a London-based foreign-affairs think tank, puts it, "History clearly proves, as with Chamberlain's compromise with Hitler at Munich, that compromise only emboldens the radicals."

Still, as unhappy as I may be, I have to acknowledge the dose of wisdom behind the voters' verdict. The message I hear is that voters want Washington pols to stop fighting among themselves and get to work. They're sick of Bush's "my way or the highway" approach to policy. They want the president to do a better job of managing the government with which they have entrusted him.

Folks are unhappy with Dubya's way of putting loyalty (to him) before competence. It didn't help when Veep Dick Cheney went hunting on Election Day -- after having shot a friend in a hunting accident in February. It was as if the Bushies were shouting a message to Americans: We can do whatever we want. We're not listening to you.

Wednesday's announcement that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is leaving shows Bush has heard the message now. Whether Bush has the capacity to make more changes remains to be seen.

If Bush is seeking a model, he need look no further than Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In his acceptance speech last night, Schwarzenegger committed himself to "a better path in order to solve problems. Yes, we have differences, but we are not divided. We address the issues, but we don't attack each other. We fight over our causes, but in the end we find common ground."

And, "Politics does not have to be personal and government does not have to be gridlocked." Sure, the part about politics not being personal is largely show -- especially considering what Treasurer Phil Angelides said about Schwarzenegger -- but this rhetoric does convey Schwarzenegger's desire to get things done.

Indeed, in this election season, Schwarzenegger put his name behind bond measures, also supported by Democratic leaders, to rebuild the state's infrastructure -- measures voters ultimately approved.

Tuesday's vote also was a rejection of the GOP House leadership. As Republican pollster Ed Goeas said Wednesday, voters made it clear they want elected office to be about "public service," and "not personal enrichment or personal power."

While U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., was hardly the biggest offender, he did treat his campaign, district and the House Resources Committee he chaired as personal fiefdoms. Pombo's wife and brother were on the campaign payroll, while Pombo's committee chief of staff made money on the side running political campaigns. Pombo didn't break any laws, but he strayed from his Tracy, Calif., roots in thinking he and his could have it all. They did -- until they lost it all.

No doubt many Republicans would rather stay conservative and pure than reach across the aisle. They don't want moderates to pollute the party base. These hardliners ought to look at what is best for America -- and U.S. troops abroad -- than what best suits their sensibilities.

Schwarzenegger showed that an elected official can come back from the dead. Now Bush needs to show that he sees this election as a chance to roll up his proverbial sleeves and make the federal government work the way it is supposed to. A good start would be to cut spending to eliminate the deficit.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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