Friday, October 29, 2010

Pre-election thoughts

I remember watching the pummeling of Republicans in the 2006 mid-terms and, as this blog post can attest, not really feeling much of anything. They got what they deserved. Two years ago I was depressed by the overwhelmingly Democratic victory, but not saddened in the least by John McCain's loss. Indeed, on occasion I remind myself that as bad as Obama is, McCain wouldn't have been a big improvement.

This year, however, I am all in for the Republicans and hope that Tuesday's victory is absolutely overwhelming, with every Democrat from Senator to dog catcher getting the boot. The hard-left approach taken over the last two years -- massive Keynesian-style stimulus spending, a massive expansion of government control over health care and a more general growth of government -- must be emphatically rejected.

Signs appear to suggest that we are headed for such an outcome. Indeed, the victory on Tuesday will likely at least equal those of 1994, which was itself a political earthquake (this is perhaps the first election that I have really distinct memories of, and can still recall the incredulousness of TV news anchors as the returns came in). In 1994 Republicans picked up 54 seats in the House and 8 in the Senate. This year those two numbers appear to be the minimum gains Republicans can expect (all the more remarkable given the unfriendly terrain faced by the GOP in the Senate as explained by Sean Trende here).

That said, while a GOP victory will be deeply satisfying as a rejection of leftist policy, the feeling will prove ephemeral. There is little about the Republican leadership itself that should excite anyone. While a Republican House will serve as a much-needed check on the worst instintcs of the Obama administration, it is highly doubtful they will attempt to roll back government in any meaningful way.

Indeed, faced with a budget deficit that exceeds $1 trillion, the Republicans haven't offered much beyond cuts to whaling subsidies and John Boehner is apparently rather animated about restoring Medicare funding. Then there's this gem from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Really? The country is faced with an insane level of debt, high unemployment, government control run amok, and your biggest priority is limiting the political fortunes of President Obama? McConnell is a prototypical establishment Republican, concerned far more about maintaining his grip on power and settling scores with rivals than the best interests of the country. Let's recall that McConnell refrained from taking a neutral stance in the Kentucky Senate primary, endorsing fellow establishment member Trey Greyson rather than the more libertarian-minded Rand Paul. There's a reason for that.

How the next two years will play out is anyone's guess. On the one hand we have an ideologically rigid president who demonstrates little in the way of Clintonian instincts or desire to engage in triangulation, and on the other is a Republican party that remains, at best, partially reformed and faced with a civil war within its ranks. Unlike 1994 when House Republicans arrived in Washington behind a leader, Newt Gringrich, who professed to share their commitment to limited government, it is by no means certain that next year's incoming freshman and the leadership will be on the same page.

What to do? Simple, keep up the pressure. A Republican Congress needs to have its feet held to the fire on spending and the size of government. The Tea Party must defy its critics and demonstrate that the commitment to such issues is not simply a reaction to the advent of a Democratic Congress and White House. If spending is not cut by at least several hundred billion dollars and a measure to repeal Obamacare has not even been brought up for a vote by the end of next summer then the marches on Washington and protests across the country must continue. It can't be stopped until they get the message.

Update: Leading Tea Party figure says that incoming GOP freshmen will be "on probation."

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