John Boehner's GOP

Posted: Feb 06, 2006 12:05 AM

The Wall Street Journal said that the vote by House Republicans for a new leader to replace Tom DeLay would be a "referendum" on the future.

Now these Republicans have spoken and picked Rep. John Boehner, an eight-term member from Ohio, to pick up the leadership reins. I guess you could call the vote a muted statement for change.

Boehner's edging out current acting GOP leader Roy Blunt of Missouri was a clear statement of rejection of the status quo. But John Shadegg of Arizona, a radical reformer and clear standard-bearer of cutting back runaway government, was shown the door in the first round of voting.

The selection of Boehner tells us that House Republicans know they have a problem, but doesn't tell us a lot about what they want to do about it.

My concern is that when Americans go to the polls in November, they're going to want to know what they're voting for. There's a lot of dissatisfaction today - just look at the approval ratings for President Bush and for Congress - and without a clearly crystallized vision of what the Republican Party is about, Americans may simply vote for change.

A negative vote - a vote for Democrats because they're not Republicans - will push the country back toward the 1970s, the decade from which the Democratic Party never emerged. The 1970s, the spawning ground of the welfare state and economic and energy policies that created the mess that ultimately led to the Reagan revolution, is something that we shouldn't have to relive.

The three candidates for the House leadership position campaigned on the pages of The Wall Street Journal. Boehner said some good stuff, like: "....(W)e need to recognize that most of our ethical problems come from a basic fact: government is too big and controls too much money."

Also, despite eight terms in Congress, Boehner has a superb record of having avoided the pork barrel himself.

But, it concerns me that he didn't mention, as did Shadegg, that real federal government spending has increased by 33 percent since 1995. It also tweaks me that he says that "The best way to deal with influence peddling is to move power out of the beltway and back to states and communities."

I'd have preferred it if he said that we need to move power out of government and back to individuals.

Boehner is touting reform of so-called "earmark" spending. This is the unscrutinized pork that gets doled out by members of Congress.

But I'm dubious of the kind of reform he's talking about. "We need to establish some clear standards by which worthy projects can be distinguished from worthless pork."

Unfortunately, I think spending left under control by politicians will be, by its very nature, politicized. The idea that Congress can establish objective standards to determine "worthwhile" projects is not, in my opinion, very likely. One congressman's "worthy" project will be another's pork and vice versa.

The real decisions that need to be made are those determining which are legitimate functions of the federal government and which are not. Boehner and his colleagues might check out the Constitution for some guidance here.

Recent polling by the Pew Research Center shows lower- and higher-income Americans with huge differences in perception regarding issues such as the state of the economy, jobs, and energy and housing prices.

Black conservatives like me have worked hard to get the message across to the lower-income community that limited government, free markets and personal responsibility are the way to solve social and economic problems. Republican politicians need to back us up on these principles. If the parties become indistinguishable, and times are tough, we're going to lose these voters.

Along with the big-government non-solutions that these low-income voters will wind up continuing to support, they will also inadvertently be throwing support behind the liberal values that the Democrats bring with them. This is the last thing that the low-income community needs.

Boehner has a challenge and an opportunity. He's gotten a vote of confidence from his colleagues to provide leadership for change. Both leadership and change are badly needed. The alternative is not a picture any of us wants.