For the GOP, a warning
By Vincent Fiore
These days, it's hard to tell just who the majority party in Washington really is. But according to the last several national elections, Republicans have won the House, the Senate, and the presidency. As Bush begins his second term with increased majorities in both House and Senate chambers, it seems that the more power Republicans garner via the voters, the less resolve and political courage they display.
If you believe you sense the beginnings of a commentary that may be less than complimentary to the GOP, trust your instincts -- you are right. This space is usually filled with anything but hyperventilating rants, as I leave the more exercised and vituperative prose for the posses of the Bush-hating left.
But even dormant volcanoes erupt once in a great while, and normally ground-in-fact writers can otherwise show the occasional adverse effects of frustration.
As Hillary Rodham Clinton continues to move ever-so-stealthily to the right on most every issue that is of consequence, Republicans cannot seem to find their proper voice on nearly anything.
Not just Hillary -- though she stands out for the obvious reason of her future presidential run in 2008 -- but the entire Democratic Party. Like Hillary, the Democratic Party has acted like something they're not, and that is the majority party in Washington.
Sure, Democrats cannot muster the votes to pass their own legislation, but they do a more than credible job on blocking President Bush's agenda. Some of the success of Democrats can be chalked up to incidental events, like the always-helpful op-ed pages of the mainstream media, along with high gasoline prices and low stock market performances.
But the primary reason for the Democratic Party's success to date is its ability to adhere to partisan discipline and unity, and the GOP's unwillingness to engage them as a majority party.
Early successes aside, like the class action tort reform bill and the more recent Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005, the Republican-led Congress has had one oar in the water most of the time.
From the alleged wrong-doing of House majority leader Tom Delay, to the botched job of touting Social Security reform, to the breathtaking lack of clamorous support for United Nations nominee John Bolton, Republicans -- as a party -- have not done nearly enough to refute liberal propaganda and obstructionists actions.
Republicans in Congress have done a wretched job at protecting and supporting the president with regard to Social Security reform. Senate members have been capricious in their support and strategy in changing Senate rules in answer to the Democrats' unprecedented filibustering of ten Bush nominees to the Circuit Courts.
Equally at fault in this widening gap of leadership is President Bush himself. Though the vast majority of Americans want illegal immigration stopped -- even to the extent of closing the borders -- Bush has developed a political tin-ear on the issue. Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer are now outflanking him by calling for tougher border protection.
I can think of no worse a party-dividing issue and majority-killer as that of America's immigration policy, and President Bush's widely perceived "back-door amnesty" for some 11 million illegal aliens in the country today. Discussions on immigration today are akin to discussions on Social Security 20 years ago: Say the wrong thing, and you may experience the fatal effects of the new "third rail" of politics.
Basically though, there is the expectation of "To the victor go the spoils" that most people are fuming over. Republicans have not had this firm a grip on Washington for over 75 years. The country has gone through a mini-realignment of sorts since the GOP captured the House in 1994. The electorate is decidedly more traditional and conservative in its social demeanor.
So it is hard to come to grips with the fact that the Republican Party -- from the president on down -- has behaved like a majority-in-denial, content to be acknowledged as the premiere power in Washington, but lacking the iron-will and killer instinct of latter-day Democratic majorities that dominated the American political scene for decades.
What do Republicans in Washington say to the millions who volunteered for the Bush/Cheney 2004 election, giving up their days and nights to go door-to-door and make tens of millions of "get to the polls" phone calls, while donating unprecedented millions to the campaign?
Would they say "Well, we tried, but we were cowed into submission by the op-ed pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post"?
Or would they say that the opposition was "Just too tough to overcome, so we decided to moderate our views instead of fighting upon the mandate given us by the voters"?
Republican political palsy and its effect on the party rank and file are as yet unknown. While some are monolithic in their support for a Republican majority in government, others are becoming increasingly alienated with the party's lack of backbone and its political dithering on core issues. By the 2006 midterm elections, things will be clearer, and Republicans may regret their inactions upon these very core issues.
Last November, 122 million people voted, or 60.7 per cent of the voting-age public. That is the highest percentage since 1968. Out of this, some 62 million-plus voted for a Republican president, and increased his majorities in both houses of Congress to work with.
If Republicans do not set their sights on what these millions of voters sent them there to do, they will feel the beginnings of their wrath in 2006, and experience the full measure of it in 2008. A warning to the majority party in Washington: Put up or get put out.
Vincent Fiore is a freelance political writer who lives in New York City. He receives e-mail at email@example.com.
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