October 3, 2005

JOHN FUND on the G.O.P.’s crisis:

With Rep. Tom DeLay’s forced departure as majority leader, Newt Gingrich says, the Republican Party stands at a crossroads as important as any it has faced since nominating Ronald Reagan for president in 1980. “It must decide if it is going to be a party that fundamentally reforms government or one that merely presides over existing institutions and spends more money,” he says. Which path the GOP now takes may determine not only how much damage it suffers in next year’s elections but also whether it can hold the White House in 2008. . . .

Mr. Hastert and his fellow GOP leaders have skillfully used their narrow majority to win an amazing number of close votes without having to negotiate much with Democrats. But gradually the fear of losing their majority has also begun leading them to behave more and more like the big-spending Democrats they unseated. “Holding the majority used to be viewed as a means to an end–the end being promoting freedom and limited government,” laments Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona. “Now, holding the majority seems to be an end in itself–holding onto power for the sake of holding onto power.” . . .

Michael Continetti, a writer at the Weekly Standard who is writing a book on the modern Republican Party, worries that a decade in political power might have “exhausted conservatism’s fighting spirit, lowered the movement’s intellectual standards and replaced a healthy independence with partisan water-carrying.” That sounds an awful lot like a description of what the last period of one-party rule did to liberals in 1993 and 1994. Back then they ignored the “unseen” political consequences of their actions and thereby convinced the electorate they no longer deserved that power.

Yes, the Congressional Republicans are looking like the 1993 Democrats, which isn’t a good thing for them, or the country. Of course, as Howard Fineman notes, the Democrats have their own problems. Which makes Stephen Green’s plaintive observation all the more piquant: “Just what we need in a time of war: Two abso-frickin’-lutely useless parties to choose from.”

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