If Republicans, candidates and base alike, cannot pull themselves out of the funk in which they find themselves, it soon will be time to start making the best of a bad situation. Some truly believe the GOP blew its big chance, their first and best chance in about 50 years.They think it might be better, even for Republicans, to see how a Barack Obama might do in office and for Republicans to join the Miami Dolphins and the St. Louis Rams in putting this season behind them and trying to salvage next season.
From 1955 through 2002, or 48 years, we never experienced a completely Republican-run government. For 14 of those years, the Democrats had everything: House, Senate, and Presidency. For 34 of those years, both houses of Congress were majority Democrat. In only six of those 48 years were both houses of Congress majority Republican -- the last six years of the Clinton Presidency.
Under Clinton, Republicans managed to end welfare, cut capital gains taxes, cut spending, expand trade and turn deficits into surpluses. Many of us salivated at the prospect of what could happen without a Democratic President ready to close down government and blame it on Republicans if he didn't get his way.
Finally, in 2003 Republicans got the Democratic foot off their collective neck. They had the House, Senate and Presidency. Finally, they could do all those things Republicans had talked about for the last 50 years: cut taxes, cut spending, cut regulations, reduce the scope of government, appoint constitutionalist judges, etc.
How did that work out?
Well, let's just look at Campaign Finance Reform, for example. It was proposed by a Republican Senator. It was passed by a Republican Congress. It was signed into law by a Republican President. And it was approved by a Supreme Court whose nine justices included seven who were appointed by Republicans. The result? It sure looks to me like money and special interests still have some influence in politics. Plus, Republicans were thrown out of Congress in 2006 partly because they were painted as the party of corruption.
President Reagan wanted to eliminate the Education Department, but couldn't get it done without Congress on his side. Once Republicans had it all, though, they teamed up with Ted Kennedy and passed the most sweeping intrusion of the federal government into K-12 education ever, and pumped federal dollars into it like crazy. The result? Complaints from schools, complaints from parents, loathing by the National Education Association, and the 2008 Democratic Presidential candidates promising to end No Child Left Behind. As for our kids, in 2006 they ranked below 28 other countries in science literacy, for example, just below Croatia and Latvia.
Mandatory programs like Social Security and Medicare are the Godzilla eating the federal budget and are estimated to go broke in just a few more years. Did the Republicans reform those programs? No, they added prescription coverage to Medicare, the greatest expansion of entitlements in 40 years. The result? Republicans got labeled as being too stingy. Seniors were irritated. Government spending spiraled and the date of Medicare bankruptcy grew closer.
We thought we largely ended farm subsidies under President Clinton with the Freedom to Farm reforms. Instead, with Tom Daschle's support, President Bush brought them back, and now we'll soon be swimming in ethanol.
President Clinton started that silly AmeriCorps, a sort of Peace Corps for America, remember? President Bush did not get rid of it or even try to; he expanded it.
Examples go on. New tariffs. Increased minimum wage. Gargantuan transportation spending. Spending growth not seen since LBJ. And what did we get for all that compassionate conservatism? George W. Bush is labeled the most ideological and divisive President in modern times, with a job approval rating approaching Jimmy Carter levels. A federal debt over $9 trillion. A loss of both the House and the Senate to the Democrats in 2006, the first time since Bush's father lost in 1992. And a field of 2008 Republican candidates that looks like the bar scene in Star Wars.
It being an election year, we are again going to hear how bad it will be if the Democrats get elected. They will tax and spend. They will appoint judges who think the Constitution is a living document. They will lead this country into socialism.
Well, we recently had a Democratic President for eight straight years. In those years, six with a GOP Congress, federal spending was cut from 22.1% of GDP to 18.4%, the lowest fraction of GDP since 1966. The deficits turned into surpluses. Welfare was ended. Capital gains taxes were cut. Free trade was expanded. And the economy expanded by a third in real terms, or an average of 3.5% per year, the same as under Ronald Reagan. After seven years of President Bush, including four with a completely Republican Congress, deficits are back and spending is again over 20% of GDP. Our government now spends more on health care than most other developed countries, but without providing universal coverage. Government at all levels in the U.S. ate up a greater fraction of our economy in 2006 than the governments of South Korea, Australia, Ireland, Switzerland, Slovakia and Japan. Try to make a list of things that are neither prohibited nor subsidized. You fear socialism? We're already there. If you are disappointed with our Supreme Court, you might reflect on the fact that since 1991, seven of the nine justices on the court had been appointed by Republicans. Every Chief Justice since 1953 has been appointed by a Republican.
Here is a list, just from memory, of what we got from Republican Presidents:
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration
- The Environmental Protection Agency
- The Clean Water Act
- Wage and price controls
- The Clean Air Act
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- Mandatory air bags
- Chief Justice Earl Warren
- Justice Blackmun (author of Roe v Wade)
- Justice Stevens
- Justice Souter
- Surrender in Viet Nam
- Public hugging of the greatest mass killer in history, Mao Zedong.
In my lifetime, Republicans have run on platforms of reducing government and being more faithful to the original intent of the Constitution. Why should we believe them any more?
In this election year, the Republican candidates barely even pay lip service to such notions. Now each one has a government program for every problem, just like the Democrats. Huckabee is ready to remove "conservative" from "compassionate conservative". Romney introduced universal health care in Massachusetts. McCain believes in global warming and gave us Campaign Finance Reform. Thompson agreed with McCain on CFR and went to bat for the plaintiff's bar when tort reform came up. Ron Paul thinks jihadis will just go away if we ignore them. Giuliani's highest elected office was mayor.
The Republican field is like a Frankenstein monster in reverse. We took the perfect Republican, Ronald Reagan, and split his good parts among five or ten hideous cadavers.
What would be so bad about a President Obama? On the domestic front, he can only sign or veto what Congress sends him and what the Supreme Court approves. If we don't elect a Republican Congress in 2008, we'll have another chance in 2010. Remember when Clinton let his wife try to design our health care system? We got the first Republican Congress in 40 years. There's a case to be made that the best mix is a Republican Congress and a Democratic President. And frankly, how much more socialist could we get than what "compassionate conservative" already got us?
And what a message would be sent to the murmuring masses of the world. The U.S. President would be a literal melting pot of a man. Where the world used to see cowboy imperialist, it would now see its smiling self in the mirror. Without being able to demonize the head of state of the Great Satan, jihadi recruiting might take a nosedive. And if the world policeman takes a coffee break, maybe the wimps of Europe will realize who is physically and demographically closer to the nutcases of the Middle East and grow a backbone.
Then there would be the entertainment factor. I must admit, while another Clinton Presidency would have me throwing bricks through the TV, an Obama Presidency might have me pouring another glass of wine while I watch in fascination.
Also, we should dispel the notion that any Republican would be better than any Democrat. What if the Republican, for whatever reason, helps enact a Democratic agenda? The Democrats would get a twofer. First, they would get their agenda. Second, they would get to blame the predictably bad consequences on Republicans.
Let me illustrate with a hypothetical example. Let's say our hypothetical Republican President, unlike the real President Bush who gave us Campaign Finance Reform and No Child Left Behind, gave us OSHA, the EPA, wage and price controls, surrender in war and Justice Blackmun. I would predict that such policies would lead to oil price shocks and recession domestically, to emboldened enemies abroad, and to resignation in disgrace politically. And worse, the electorate would blame Republicans for all this in the following elections.
Would such a Republican President be better than a Democrat who would do the same things, but the blame would go to Democrats?
Back to real life, I would argue that Jimmy Carter gave birth to Ronald Reagan. Over a time horizon greater than the next election cycle, it is better to have a Democrat who acts like a Democrat than a Republican who acts like a Democrat.
So until I see real evidence that the Republican candidates would act like Republicans instead of Democrats once in office, I'd just as soon see Barack Obama step off Marine One.
Who knows? Maybe Obama would turn out to be another Carter and thus give birth to the new Ronald Reagan in 2012. Maybe the new Reagan could be our own melanous melting-pot of a candidate. Maybe someone who is a governor now, in a diverse and hard-to-govern state like, say, Louisiana.