Jewish World Review Nov. 19, 1999/10 Kislev, 5760
The Party of
Lincoln is aiming low
REPUBLICANS ARE SLINKING out of Washington this year,
declaring victory in terms normally reserved for capitulation.
The revolutionary aim of the GOP in 1999 was not to abolish inane agencies,
rein in marauding regulators, hack away choking vines of taxation or make it
possible for parents to have as much latitude in customizing their
children's education as they have in customizing their toilet paper.
No: The Party of Lincoln aimed low. It vowed to "protect" Social Security
and slash the growth of federal spending from 5 percent to 4.62 percent. It
held new spending to "only" about $30 billion more than the budget law
The congressional GOP isn't spineless, as some allege. It's headless. It
has no ideological core. It does not stand for limited government, reduced
taxes or liberation from the indignities of Big Government. It stands merely
for survival -- which is defined as enjoying the good opinion of a president
and a press corps that will tolerate a Republican Party only insofar as it
behaves like a faint reproduction of the Democratic Party.
Every time Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott or House Speaker Dennis
Hastert so much as mention an interesting idea, a cadre of Laodicean
Republicans threaten to bolt. The result is that the Republican majority
functions in precisely the same manner as an Israeli parliamentary
coalition: At any time, a group of obscure malcontents can bring the
government to ruin.
The party reinforces its weakness by adopting a loser's communications
strategy. Even after commissioning a bevy of polls and retaining a squadron
of outside script doctors, Republicans can't resist the temptation to
describe their achievements in the argot of legislative process. They will
create a "Social Security lock box." They will "live within the budget
caps." They will use "savings from domestic programs to offset planned
expenditures for national defense."
This is how budget nerds talk to each other when they are making fun of
budget nerds. While Democrats promise to help the infirm, educate the stupid
and employ the homeless, Republicans sit in the corner, drooling and ranting
about the sanctity of Congressional Budget Office revenue estimates.
Although Republicans have established a beachhead in state politics, where
they control a majority of legislative houses and governor's mansions, they
have yet to flower into an actual majority party. In fact, they have all but
given up the project in Washington, where they are stocking up on
provisions, drawing blankets around their shoulders and waiting for
deliverance in the form of a presidential nominee.
The 2000 Republican Convention almost certainly will eschew the traditional
GOP nastiness over abortion language in the platform. In fact, there
probably won't be any interesting fights at all. This is what happens when a
party loses its intellectual ferment and becomes desperate. On matters of
policy, the nominee will propose language. The delegates will ratify. And
those in attendance will hope they guessed right.
The modern Republican Party is a work in progress that stopped progressing
four years ago. It has become frozen in amber. It features a Reagan
nostalgia wing that tells war stories about Ole Dutch -- and then sighs. It
features a noblesse oblige wing that pays homage to the parlor-room Babbitry
of our upper middle classes. It features a warrior wing, comprised largely
of raw Southerners who want to do to liberal bureaucracy what Sherman did to
the Eastern seaboard; and it features a photogenic young conservative wing,
which wants to do much the same thing, but with the aid of minorities and
Right-wing critics miss the mark when they demand auto da fe for Hastert
and Lott. Those men did the best they could in an age in which the public
seems content with a large, expensive and growing government.
For now, Lincoln's party isn't a party at all -- just a party in waiting.
When Republicans meet next year in convention, the only thing they'll be
sure to have in common is hotel reservations.
The departing Congress reflects that fact. Since its worthies can't make a
demotic argument for anything of importance, they settled for narrow,
technical challenges -- such as the 0.38 percentage point reduction in the
growth of federal spending.
This sense of caution explains why the old salts wax nostalgic over Reagan
and why the young guns pray their next nominee will possess even a glimmer
of the Gipper's focus and
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©1999, Creators Syndicate