Now before I continue, I need to make two disclosures. First, I'm a Republican; in fact, a conservative Republican. Along those lines, in November I'll be voting for Cathy McMorris and the rest of the Republican ticket. But my second disclosure is this: Even though I'll be voting Republican, and even though I'm a conservative Republican, I need to let my fellow Republican brothers and sisters know that I'm not only disappointed by the performance of the Republicans in Congress, but I'm truly embarrassed.
The intellectual torches that were lit in 1994 at the time of the Republican revolution have almost totally burned out. In their place we now find a cynical, ends-justifies-the-means dynamic.
That's a shame, because even though liberals vehemently opposed Newt Gingrich's ideas, no one could question their sheer intellectual force, nor the energy with which they were pursued. In 1994, conservatives in Congress stood for something -- people like Steve Largent, J.C. Watts and many others, who, unfortunately, are no longer in the House.
In 1994, the Republicans took over both houses of Congress for the first time in half a century. The efforts of individuals like Frederick Hayek in the 1940s and William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater in the 1950s and '60s created the economic and political framework for the election and reelection of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. But the full force of the conservative economic theories spawned in the 1940s, '50s and '60s reached its zenith with the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. Many conservatives assumed that Bush's election in 2000 and reelection in 2004 would be the fulfillment of literally six decades of hard work by conservatives.
The conservative movement's victory in 1994 rested primarily on two pillars: (1) the virtue of a limited, restrained federal government; and (2) the conviction that 40 years of Democratic control of the House had created an environment of incompetence and complacency. Hillary's stumbling, secretive attempt at a nationalized health care system became Exhibit A for the need for a limited federal government. Under the banner of term limits, America agreed it was time to throw the bums out.
But something happened between the 104th Congress in 1994 and the 109th Congress in 2004: The idealism and conservative intellectual firepower was replaced by pork and its first cousin -- the power of incumbency. It's almost as if the Republicans chose Ogden Nash's quote as their banner: "Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long."
No one can say today, at least with a straight face, that the Republican Party in 2006 stands for a smaller, leaner federal government. I've tried that line with some of my liberal friends. They laugh. Under Clinton, the federal government grew at an annual rate of 3.4 percent. By contrast, since 2000 the annual growth rate for the federal government exceeds 10 percent. And you can't explain the difference with Iraq and Katrina. Discretionary spending has increased dramatically across the board.
So what's the answer for conservatives like myself? In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, the senior editor of the conservative National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru, argued forcefully that the loss of the House by the Republicans would be the best thing that could happen to the Republican Party in the long term. Ponnuru stated that, "The [Republican] Party lost its reformist zeal years ago and has been trying to win elections based on pork and incumbency ever since." Keeping the House in Republican hands, he continued, would simply reward the Republicans' "political incompetence, complacency [and] sporadic corruption." The loss of the House would, on the other hand, "make the Republicans hungrier and sharpen their wits," much as happened in 1992.
With the Republicans still in control, most likely, of the Senate and the Presidency, liberals would have little say in either foreign policy or judicial appointments. Nancy Pelosi and Company would have two years to turn off moderate and independent voters, a dynamic that would help the Republicans greatly in 2008, when the stakes will be much higher.
From K Street's Jack Abramoff to confessed felons Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and Robert Ney (R-Ohio); from Tom DeLay's (R-Texas) resignation to the bizarre expansion of the Federal Court's jurisdiction for the Terri Schiavo case (so much for Federalism and states' rights); from the sordid scandal that exploded with last week's announcement that Mark Foley (R-Fla.) has had a special interest in underage male pages to the boondoggle Medicare drug benefit plan (which has only made seniors mad); and from the biggest porker of all time, last year's transportation bill, to ... well, you get the picture. Like a scene out of Animal Farm, the pigs are now walking upright and sleeping in human beds!
Last week, Rich Galen, a Republican political analyst, said, "This sense of entitlement that members of Congress can do anything to anyone or for anyone has got to end."
My prediction is that it will only end when and if the Republicans lose control of the House in November.
Frederick Hayek wrote that, "We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish."
Unfortunately, a growing chorus of conservatives has concluded that, in the absence of a major political setback, the Republican Party will never learn that much of what it has been doing has been very foolish.
Shaun Cross is a Spokane
attorney. He ran for Congress
as a Republican in 2004.