Wasted days and wasted nights

Posted: Oct 27, 2006 12:01 AM
Wasted days and wasted nights

Last week I examined polling that shows Republicans poised to lose control of at least one chamber of Congress, and I rhetorically asked Americans if they really wanted to take that step.

Probably they do. So now I'll look back at a January column of mine. It told the story of too many wasted days and nights by GOP lawmakers. They squandered precious weeks and months, and their chronic inaction may soon abruptly end perhaps the last, best chance fiscal conservatives have had to make a lasting, positive impact in Washington.

I told the story of Tennessee Congressman Zach Wamp. He pointed out to the press that on a home visit his constituents were less interested in changing "the culture in Washington" than they were in a new best-selling book about the "Fair Tax." Apparently Wamp was the only congressman attuned to this political groundswell of sentiment. His Republican Party leaders sure weren't.

Polls say the Iraq war is the main issue driving the Republicans into the ground. We can examine these public surveys until the cows -- or the troops -- come home, but I'll stay convinced that if Congress had given the people just some of the domestic policy changes they've been clamoring for, more congressional races today would be leaning Republican. Now, if the Democrats take over either chamber, tax reform -- which has broad public support -- will be shelved, probably for years.

Nor did the current Congress satisfactorily address illegal immigration. The "border fence" bill that just passed was a last-minute "we-have-to-do-something" action. Most Americans are justifiably skeptical that it will address the problem, even if it's ever really built. Immigration Band-Aid number two, a guest-worker policy, is also tenuous because it builds a philosophical "wall" of its own -- a divide between opposing factions within the GOP.

Allow me to contradict myself. Last week I questioned the tempting impulse for voters to vote out the congressional Republican majority. In fairness, I now must ask why not? What good will it do to keep them in control? Bloated, debt-laden government will only continue.

In effect, the Republicans are like a cheating spouse, asking pretty please can they have one more chance. But they're in need of counseling first. If given absolution by the voters, will they drain the moat around the Capitol and allow pragmatic ideas to enter by the front door? Will they tax their brains more and our wallets less? Will they end "welfare" as we know it for foreign countries that despise our own? Or raze the mountain of red tape too many Americans must climb to access adequate health care? Will they review their Medicare drug-benefit program, the first new massive federal entitlement in a generation?

On foreign policy, many Americans say in public surveys that it isn't necessarily war in Iraq that so severely troubles them. What they want in dealing with Iraq or Iran or North Korea or anyplace else is a coherent and realistic plan. They want to do whatever can be done, and be done. No promises, just mission clarity.

Instead, a sincere and well-meaning President Bush digs himself and his nation a deeper and deeper foxhole. For practically forever we weren't going to budge in the face of our enemies. Now, suddenly, in a recent press conference, instead of "staying the course," we're going to "react as is necessary," but also stay the course.

Governing the world's only superpower nation -- and sometimes, it seems, the whole stinking planet -- is perpetually problematic for the White House and Congress and the citizens who put them there and remove them. But that doesn't excuse our top elected officials from having spent the last year or two barking at one another and chasing their tails.

Maybe it's time these old dogs got kicked off the porch. Sure enough, Americans may be strapping on their boots just in time to do just that on Election Day.

Regardless, if and when the Republican Party again controls both the presidency and the Congress -- be it next year or next lifetime -- they'd do well to go to school and study the misspent days of 2005-2006. Precious days they've been indeed, and now lost.