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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Day After

Republicans ran as the Party of Reform, harking back to 1994 when they took over the House with a commitment to start explaining America to Washington again rather than the opposite. Twelve years later, what had they "reformed"? Republicans talked about reforming the "culture of corruption" that characterized their Democrat House predecessors. Twelve years later: Jack Abramoff. Congressional Republicans toyed with doing something serious about earmarks (spending measures tossed into appropriation bills by individual members of Congress), but they did too little too late. They railed about the need to tackle immigration but didn't follow through with convincing action. When President Bush proposed Social Security reform in 2005, House and Senate Republicans didn't pick up the cause. Moral of the story: Don't raise the issue of reform if you're not willing to follow through. Raising hopes only to dash those hopes is not an effective political two-step. Meanwhile, Democrats this season ran as common sense centrists. That was their message and it got through to former GOP voters who refused to rally to Karl Rove's familiar "Come home to your core values" message. Disenchanted Republicans and independents correctly realized that it was congressional Republicans who had abandoned core values, especially concerning government spending and integrity. The greater number of white evangelicals who voted Democrat yesterday say they did so because of Republican corruption. Whether newly empowered congressional Democrats will govern as centrists is doubtful at best. Pelosi says she'll govern from her party's "center." That doesn't exactly inspire confidence because the Democrats' center of gravity invariably involves raising taxes to pay for ineffective social programs, along with cutting defense and security spending in the name of "peace." House Democrats now have more than a voice; they've got a voting majority. Will they dare to vote to cut off funding for the war? Will there be a serious effort to impeach the president? America will be watching to see if Democrats can act responsibly or whether they go for revenge. Big picture: As the results sink in, it will be increasingly clear that this election was a defeat not for conservatism but for Republicanism. And this election was no victory for liberalism as a governing philosophy. Amazingly, Democrats were able to campaign as the party of fiscal discipline. This message worked because Republicans seemed moonstruck with the virtues of big government. Conservatives can take heart to this extent: I know of no state where voters said yes to gay marriage, yes to racial preferences, yes to partial-birth abortion, yes to empowering coercive centralized, bureaucratic, "service providing" government elites. There's an axiom that says Republicans do best when they lose power because this helps them recall Reagan's genius for articulating precisely how and why government is most often the problem, not the solution. Republicans are sorely mistaken if they believe they'll take the White House in 2008 simply by running against Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. Their only hope is to return to their limited government roots. That's easier when they're not defending power and privilege on Capitol Hill. So it's not a great day for Republicans, unless they decide to look at the election as a wake up call. The real measure of an effective wake up call isn't the ringing but the response. It only works if you wake up.