When I joined 53 other Republicans who were elected in 1994 in a wave of change that swept our angry nation, we soon learned that anger is not a policy. With recent Tea Party victories across the nation, the challenge for Republicans — if they return in January to the majority in either chamber of Congress — is to effectively lead the nation with policies that may be anger-induced, but must be purposefully implemented. Today’s voters expect political consistency, sustainable results and the maturity of judicious compromise.
The ‘94 election results created sharp divisions in the 104th Congress — Democrats were frustrated to be out of power after 40 years of House majority status, and Republicans were impatient to implement the “Contract with America.” The public anger that fed the Republican victory created a new birth of hyper-partisanship and polarization, resulting in a negative impact on the institution of Congress and the ability of elected officials to conduct public policy in a unified way. The nation again became, and has remained, divided.
Despite such divisions, Republicans produced remarkable achievements in the short term. The federal budget was balanced for four straight years. Revenues refreshingly exceeded expenditures, and public debt was actually paid down. But as Republicans gradually adopted the Democrats’ model of overspending federal money as a means for getting re-elected, the public grew disgusted with Republican political inconsistency and lack of fiscal discipline, and dethroned them in 2006 — angry with Republicans. This year, voters are not only angry again at being let down by Democrats and other elected officials since 2006, they’re frightened for the future — and more assertive than ever as the economy falters and is slow to recover.
This public frustration with leaders in Washington, D.C., has produced another disturbing condition. Ask voters today if they trust their government or those who run it. The answer of most is a resounding “No.” A CNN poll this month revealed that only 25 percent of Americans trust their government. A Pew Center poll in April was 3 percent lower. Sadly, most Americans have lost faith in American political leadership.
As the November elections approach, Democrats and other incumbents are feeling the sting of voter anger at their performance in office since 2006, and particularly the performance of the top Democrat, President Obama. More voters realize the “hope and change” he promised were ambiguous expressions of a candidate who took office pursuing bigger-government policies that are inconsistent with the goals that most Americans have for their country. They expect America to be an exceptional nation leading the world in freedom, enterprise and security. Many citizens believe the president’s policies are leading America away from that view.
As Democrats have ignored the lessons of 1994 and misunderstood the elections of 2006 and 2008, the sort of anger at Republicans that propelled Democrats to office four short years ago will likely usher in Republicans next January. If Republicans want to survive the voters’ lively anxiety in future elections, they must remember: Voters want the consistency of a frugal nation, the avoidance of the subtle peril of a dangerous world and public officials who will maintain the dignity of the offices which they so fortunately hold.
Passing burdensome, 2,000-page health care legislation, proposing tax increases in a struggling economy and failing to protect the sovereignty of American borders, all of which the public opposes, have led the electorate to the brink much like in 1994. They’re angry and frustrated, and stiff-necked enough not to tolerate leaders who lead the United States away from fiscal prudence and toward institutional overreach. They also want the two parties to work together for the common good.
Republicans should directly offer the President and Democrats the opportunity to unite in partnership to re-establish the public’s trust in government through the enactment of policies truly in the national interest. Even if Democrats don’t accept the offer, it’s an effort worthy of any majority party.
Republicans have a golden opportunity to lead with resolve and purpose as voter anger is now a wind at their back. Public officials who have leaned left to rob future generations of economic opportunity will feel voter wrath this November. The Republican “Pledge to America” has been panned as lacking specifics and too full of platitudes, but it’s a start of a governance plan that provides a gauge for accountability. While the “Pledge” lacks the specifics of 1994’s “Contract with America,” ultimately it is the character and resolve of individual members of Congress to exercise the principled leadership necessary to lift the nation that will determine our country’s course. The Republican plan sets a course that stands in stark contrast to the President’s plan for governance revealed by his and the Democrats’ actions in office since 2009.
The Republicans can benefit from this year’s voter anger (should they assume the responsibility of leadership in January 2011) and avoid the mistakes that followed the 1994 and 2006 Congressional elections if they heed the advice of Mahatma Ghandi: “There goes my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”