Friday, January 22, 2010

Nuts and Creeps

Peggy Noonan:
Speaking broadly: In the 2006 and 2008 elections, and at some point during the past decade, the ancestral war between Democrats and the Republicans began to take on a new look. If you were a normal human sitting at home having a beer and watching national politics peripherally, as normal people do until they focus on an election, chances are pretty good you came to see the two major parties not as the Dems versus the Reps, or the blue versus the bed, but as the Nuts versus the Creeps. The Nuts were for high spending and taxing and the expansion of government no matter what. The Creeps were hypocrites who talked one thing and did another, who went along on the spending spree while lecturing on fiscal solvency.

In 2008, the voters went for Mr. Obama thinking he was not a Nut but a cool and sober moderate of the center-left sort. In 2009 and 2010, they looked at his general governing attitudes as reflected in his preoccupations—health care, cap and trade—and their hidden, potential and obvious costs, and thought, "Uh-oh, he's a Nut!"

Which meant they were left with the Creeps.

But the Republican candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, and now Scott Brown in Massachusetts, did something amazing. They played the part of the Creep very badly! They put themselves forward as serious about spending, as independent, not narrowly partisan. Mr. Brown rarely mentioned he was a Republican, and didn't even mention the party in his victory speech. Importantly, their concerns were on the same page as the voters'. They focused on the relationship between spending and taxing, worried about debt and deficits, were moderate in their approach to social issues. They didn't have wedge issues, they had issues.

The contest between the Nuts and the Creeps may be ending. The Nuts just got handed three big losses, and will have to have a meeting in Washington to discuss whether they've gotten too nutty. But the Creeps have kind of had their meetings—in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. And what seems to be emerging from that is a new and nonsnarling Republicanism. It may be true—and they will demonstrate in time if it is true—that they have learned from past defeats, absorbed the lessons, reconsidered the meaning of politics. Maybe in time it will be said of this generation of Republicans what AndrĂ© Malraux said to Whittaker Chambers after reading his memoir, "Witness": "You did not come back from hell with empty hands."
This could be interpreted as a Republican embrace of at least a soft version of libertarianism. Let's hope it's true, although no one should hold their breath.

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