Let's be blunt

Posted: Sep 29, 2005 12:00 AM

Let's be blunt. These are not easy times for Republicans.
The indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) hurts. It may turn out to be a pile of politically motivated rubbish, but it still hurts.

 Things look even tougher when you add to this the increased scrutiny over Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-Tenn.) sale of stock from a "blind trust."

 It appears likely that Frist directed trustees to sell his stock not out of greed, but rather to comply with a request from ethics regulators that he divest himself of the stock. If that's the case, this particular damage to the GOP will likely be mitigated.

 Even so, this remains a time when bad news for Republican officeholders seems to be piling up.

 Consider another case, that of Republican Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. The day before Hurricane Rita hit, he was told that the storm would mean dangerously low fuel supplies for Georgia and surrounding areas. 

 Of particular concern to Perdue was the shortage of diesel fuel, which is needed for school buses and for farm machinery for the state's vital agribusiness community.

 Perdue boldly took charge. He asked Georgia school districts to voluntarily invoke two "snow days" to cancel classes. This would preserve precious fuel and also serve by example to encourage the public to conserve gasoline.

 When the storm turned out to be less damaging than initially thought and the state's gas pumps stayed full, many Georgia parents started criticizing Perdue.

 But by midweek, some gas shortages were developing, and Perdue's action, though still unpopular with some, was being applauded as proactive preparedness by the likes of President Bush.

 So even Republicans who prepare for disasters are subject to criticism from their foes, who these days are smelling blood in the water.

 How does this thing get turned around? Republicans may not want to hear it, but positive reversals rarely happen overnight.

 In fact, things often get worse before they get better. That could happen with the DeLay affair. His name is linked -- at least tangentially -- to another political time bomb. It involves some high-powered Washington lobbyists who, in essence, are accused of playing fast and loose with Native American tribes that held interests in gaming casinos.

 The accusation is that these lobbyists used an assortment of political and legal maneuvers to force one tribe to shut down its gaming operations, only to then turn around and try to charge the ruined casinos a huge fee to put them back in business.

 Here's where my broken record starts to play.

 Ideas are the power of any political party. In 1980, Ronald Reagan took advantage of the public's general frustration, and the high economic "misery index," to usher in bold new ideas about the economy and to rebuild the national defense.

 Newt Gingrich's "Class of 1994" didn't win Congress based on Gingrich's charm -- or, back then, the lack thereof. He did it with his Contract with America, a fresh and fleshed-out policy agenda.

 So now we must ponder whether the GOP's battered leadership will embrace bold and inventive new ideas, or simply tread water.

 Readers of this column know that I have been following the unique and exciting proposal in Congress known as "The Fair Tax." Another long explanation of the proposal is not needed. Let me simply note that a well-conceived consumption tax could end the income tax as we know it.

 I find it interesting that while a book about the tax has soared to the top of the New York Times best seller list, the proposed tax seems to be generating little excitement in Washington.

 Interesting, yes. Surprising, no. Congress and Washington aren't places to embrace new and needed ideas. And it's no secret that the very existence of many Washington trade associations and governmental affairs firms hinges on their ability to win tax breaks for their clients. If there's suddenly no convoluted tax code, there are also no big fees for them.

 However reluctantly they do it, both lobbyists and politicians must come to grips with the fact that there is a hurricane-weary and highly skeptical public outside of the D.C. Beltway that is expecting something good to come out of Congress and the White House.

 This needed breakthrough becomes an even steeper uphill fight when rightly or wrongly indicted GOP leaders combine with head-in-the-sand bureaucrats like former Federal Emergency Management Agency director Mike Brown to leave the public even more jaded than before.

 As noted, Georgia's governor took a political gamble on fuel supplies that could help him or hurt him. But at least he tried something new.

 Perhaps Congress should try the same thing and embrace new ideas. Just worrying about campaign funds can cause real trouble. If you don't believe me, ask Tom DeLay.