Jonah Goldberg

The Republican caucus in the House of Representatives is having an election to decide who should be the new majority leader. Who among us can contain his excitement? Because large majorities of Americans cannot name the chief justice of the United States or the speaker of the House, and roughly half can't name their own congressman, my guess is: a lot of us.

But that doesn't mean that it's not a big deal. Three guys are running to be Tom DeLay's replacement. DeLay Inc., battered by a fairly bogus prosecution in Texas, was finally undone by the unfolding L'Affaire Abramoff - a real scandal.

There are two overlapping stories here: what's good for the country, and what's good for the GOP. They aren't necessarily the same thing, though they could be.

Let's start with the GOP. Much to the chagrin of the Democrats, congressional Republicans have gotten the message that their hold on power is threatened by the perception - not entirely undeserved - that they've become a K Street escort service.

Democrats are vexed for the simple reason that, lacking any other ideas, they hoped to run on GOP "corruption" in the 2006 elections. The problem, for them, is that there's time for Republicans to fix their image before November.

That's why the three candidates for majority leader are in the midst of a bidding war to prove they are the most committed to "reform." All three - Roy Blunt of Missouri, John A. Boehner of Ohio and John Shadegg of Arizona - have solid conservative voting records, so each is campaigning on who will be the most effective "reformer." I am reserving my endorsement for the candidate who, like a Yakuza henchman, agrees to lop off a pinkie on "Meet the Press" in penance for GOP overspending these last few years.

No doubt many Republicans are truly committed to the cause of reform on the merits. But this seems to be the only issue in the race - and that's a good sign because it means the GOP recognizes the depth of its image problem. It's nice when politicians do stuff for the right reasons, but it's more reassuring when doing the right thing actually happens to be in their self-interest. If the GOP can get back on track as the party of limited but competent government, the Republican realignment of the last decade could be set in stone for a generation.

Which brings us to what's good for the nation. "Reform" is a tricky word. It means both "improvement" and "change in shape." The media tend to get this confused - a lot - treating any rearrangement of the status quo as an improvement. You can reform Silly Putty all day, but it's still Silly Putty.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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