It has been an awkward winter and spring for the Grand Old Party, but as the city sanitation department sweeps away the last of the cherry blossoms, the Republicans seem to be re-forming as a coherent fighting mechanism.
Winter got off to a bad start when the tidal waves killed hundreds of thousands of Asians and, more to the political point, swept away the aura of good feelings following the Republicans' triumphant November election results. That gave Democrats a chance to feel good about themselves again by beating up on "American stinginess," while Republicans had to apologize for the mere billion dollars and the seventh fleet rescue mission we dispatched.
After a rousing Inaugural Address, President Bush set Republicans to further nervous fidgeting with his State of the Union "cry havoc and let slip the dogs of Social Security reform." Republican congressmen naturally feared that "this foul deed shall smell above the earth with carrion men, groaning for burial" (Shakespeare's version of the third rail).
Then, the Republicans apparently irked the public with their efforts to save the poor Schiavo woman, which in turn launched the DemocraticPartyNewYorkTimesWashingtonPostCBSCNN mudball attack on Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. For about three weeks, the House Republicans, leaderless, wandered around bumping into each other and thinking about throwing Old Tom overboard.
At the same time the Senate Republicans, without the benefit of any White House planning or leadership, were letting the Democrats use President Bush's nominee to the UN, John Bolton, as a human pinata (except that in this game, the pinata was blindfolded and the Democratic children with sticks had their eyes wide open).
Further enervating Republican elan was Senate Majority Leader Frist's tedious, slow-motion, half threat of ending judicial filibusters.
It was a sorry picture indeed: A city full of large, ivory tusked, bull battle elephants driven to fear, distraction and goring each other by the braying of a pack of mangy jack asses.
But the Democrats appear to have overplayed their hand. The tactic of "boo" must be used sparingly, preferably when it is dark and preferably directed at unsuspecting targets. After the donkeys with alligator masks on have jumped out from behind the Capitol columns three or four times in succession in broad daylight shouting "boo," the Republican elephants have begun to realize that the only danger to them is if they stumble down the steps in response to the "boo."
The Democrats are powerless to do much of anything in national politics of a functional nature. All they can do is malfunction and hope to induce the Republicans to join them in their malfunctioning. By using angled light, the Democrats have been able to spend the winter and spring casting a larger shadow than their actual stature would justify.
Slowly, the Republicans have come to notice that the only thing they have to fear is fear itself. As FDR explained: "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." Finally, the advance has begun.
First, the House rallied around DeLay and started to fight back much to the discomfort of minority leader Pelosi, DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel and at least two dozen of their quickly retreating flock who are too busy correcting their own ethical lapses to give full throat to phony charges against DeLay.
Then the White House restiffened the spines of the Republican senators who are now ready to confirm John Bolton to his ambassadorship in the United Nations. It will bring a grateful smile to many a Republican face (and a rueful grimace to Sen. Biden and his Democratic associates) in the coming months and years whenever Bolton is prominently quoted saying needed, if unpleasant, things to the corrupt rabble posing as diplomats at the UN. And given the prominence of his confirmation process, his quotes while in office also will be more prominently reported than they otherwise would have been.
Next week should see the official trigger pulling in the Senate to kill the judicial filibuster. Then for the next three and three-quarter years, President Bush, needing only 50 votes (plus the vice president's) will be able to nominate and have confirmed solid, smart conservative judges most of them under 45 years old. He may replace up to four Supreme Court justices and a broad range of circuit justices. It will be a historic policy accomplishment that will last at least 30 years.
Even Social Security reform has been clarified for Republicans as they have been put on notice that Bush does not intend to back down. So they have to decide whether to fight with him or against him. My guess is they will fight with him to force passage of some meaningful fiscal reform. Now that the fighting spirit has been reengaged, Republicans will prefer to take the odd wound in the chest fighting for something, rather than a wound on the backside running away from their responsibilities.
Or, as Shakespeare reminds us:
Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.