Few election results were less surprising than last Tuesday’s. It’s not as if there was no reason for a general backlash against Republican Party dominance in Washington, D.C. There were, in fact, more reasons to vote against Republicans than for them.
The Grand Old Party, in actual operation as a ruling party, had stood by just a few principles. Most people could only name two: Republicans had stuck to their guns on gun ownership rights and on a few tax cuts.
But general tax cuts? No. A general tax simplification reform? No.
Spending cuts? A resounding no, no, no, echoing throughout the land as the party of Reagan spent like the party of Tip O’Neil . . . on steroids.
Republicans in Congress, as corralled by the President, had even managed to increase entitlement spending by adding a new level of coverage by Medicare.
And the issue of war . . . well, Americans were beginning to see something very wrong in the move on Iraq.
None of these provide strong arguments for voting Democrat, of course. Democrats love spending money just as much as, apparently, Republicans in office do. And Democrats have demonstrated no clear vision on Iraq, much less on foreign policy in general. Though the war in Iraq was the paramount issue in the election, the victory by Democrats doesn’t point to any clear change in policy, as Democrats offered none.
But our democracy is, at the federal level, held in a two-party cartel. When one party demonstrably fails, Americans have no other choice: If we are to hold politicians responsible for their acts, then power must be taken away from them. Bite the bullet and vote for the opposition.
However distasteful, it’s that simple.
A Prophet in His Own Party
Three days before the election, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a segment on Rep. Jeff Flake. The story featured the Arizona rep’s seemingly quixotic attempt to cut down on “earmarks” (pork). And Flake was most candid. “Everyone bears some blame here but Republicans are going to be blamed disproportionately. And then I have to say we deserve it, because we’ve been in charge.”
Yes. There’s no way around this. Republicans have been in charge. They can’t really blame their profligacy on Democrats. They were tested; they fell short.
In the December issue of Reason magazine, which appeared in many mailboxes on or around Election Day, Flake appeared just as candid. Why should proponents of limited government vote Republican?
Well, if they grade on a curve, we’re still a better choice. (Laughs.) If you believe in limited government, the Democrats don’t offer you very much. I’ve yet to see a Democrat actually bring a proposal to the floor that spends less or is less intrusive.
But neither Flake nor Reason’s editors are very comfortable grading on the curve. Flake went on:
I think Republicans have by and large gone native. I don’t know how you can conclude otherwise. You look at any measure of spending — overall spending, mandatory, discretionary, non-defense discretionary, non-homeland security spending — whichever way you slice the record, the record looks pretty bad. When you look at where we’re heading, with Medicare Part D, it just means that these programs run out of money a lot sooner than they were going to already.
Summarizing, Flake put everything into perspective: “Republicans have adopted the belief or the principle that you spend money to get elected."
Principle Over Party
The Democrats, over the years, well merited the sobriquet, the Party of Big Government. They pushed the dramatic expansion of the federal government in the last century with FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society. In doing so, Democrats did not merely garner the support of public employees, the party became a wholly owned subsidiary of the public employee unions.
This symbiotic relationship kept the Democrats the Party of Government in the eyes of the American people, even while Republicans controlled Capitol Hill and the White House. Yet, in 2006 that perception changed.
Longtime conservative Richard Viguerie may have put it best: “Republicans became the party of government. With earmarks, with spending, with the prescription drug benefit, with the Foley case, it became clear that they would spend anything and do anything to hold on to power.”
Politics is the practice of power. As such, principle is always fragile. Allegiance to party, to the institutional means over political ends, will often triumph.
But the spectacle got too disgusting for too many independent and conservative supporters. A party that once prided itself on the notion of limiting government can’t long hold the standard of Big Government. It smacks too much of lies and hypocrisy, not to mention bad policy.
Flake saw this coming, saying back in June that “I don’t think our leadership fully appreciates the trouble we are in.”
Let’s hope a new Republican leadership emerges. And let’s hope the GOP, stuck in the wilderness it so decisively earned, learns from its prophets (even Mr. Flake, who, while right on spending, abandoned his self-imposed term limits pledge for the expediency of re-election).
Then Republicans may have something substantial to offer us in 2008 — not a bridge project, but more freedom to pursue our own American dreams. It’s time again to stick to the principle that less government is, indeed, more . . . when it comes to the good of the country.
And when it comes to winning elections, too.
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