by Andy Jackson
On November 7, Americans voters turned control of Congress over to the Democrats, creating a divided government for the first time in six years. For Republicans, it is important to know why we lost and what can be done to win back the voters’ trust in 2008.
Some members of Republicans Abroad-Korea (RAK) met soon after the election to discuss just those issues. The consensus reached was that it was not one issue but a ‘perfect storm’ of several factors.
The Iraq conflict was clearly a factor. While the progress is being made in preparing Iraqi forces to take over security operations, that progress has been slow and the American people have shown increasing impatience with casualties our military personnel have been taking there.
Another factor against Republicans was the historical trend of the party in control of the White House to lose seats in Congress. The party in power has traditionally lost an average of 30 House seats and 6 Senate seats in midterm elections. The Democrat electoral ‘tsunami’ was nothing extraordinary. That is one reason some Democrats, such as Bill Clinton adviser James Carville have called on DNC Chairman Howard Dean to resign.
One thing that seems clear is that this was indeed a Republican loss, rather than a Democrat victory. The Consensus of RAK members at the meeting was that we as a party had moved away from our core values, which turned off just enough voters to lose us dozens of seats. We were given control of Congress in 1994 on a promise to clean up the corruption and pork barrel practices that had taken hold in the legislature. But episodes like the Mark Foley sex scandal and Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal turned off many voters.
To compound matters, many Republicans had fallen into the same corrupt and free-spending ways that many Americans associate with the Democrats. The practice of earmarking (also known as pork barrel) actually grew under the Republican Congress as members of both parties raided the budget to fund projects in their districts. This is symbolized in a $315 million earmark for the famous “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska, a proposed span that would connect an island of 14,000 residents to an island of 50 residents.
The 2006 election was not a triumph of liberalism. On the contrary, many of the Democrats elected this month differed from their party’s leadership on a variety of issues. The ‘Blue Dog’ coalition of moderate and conservative Democrats increased its membership to 44, much more than the Democratic majority in the upcoming session of Congress. Conservative ballot initiatives generally did well across the country. Voters rejected our party, not our principles. There is still a center-right majority in America that will vote for us if we give them a reason to do so.
Fortunately, the Democrats already seem to be doing their best to help us. They offered few concrete ideas during the campaign and their conduct since the election has shown that they have learned little during their time in the political wilderness.
While they criticized the conduct of the war in Iraq, they have offered little in the way of alternatives. Despite some claims to the contrary, there is no Democrat plan for Iraq. Before the elections, some Democrats said that President Bush lied to Congress about intelligence on Iraq. Many, such as incoming House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, called for Bush’s impeachment. Surly, if Democrats really believed that the president had lied to Congress on matters of war and peace, they are morally obliged to move to impeach him. But now that the Democrats have the power to call for impeachment hearings (where they would have to present their evidence), they have suddenly decided that it is not a good idea. Even Conyers seems to have changed his mind, saying that impeachment is ‘off the table.’
They criticized corruption on the part of some Republicans, but the race for majority leader came down between Rep. John P. Murtha, co-conspirator in the Abscam scandal of the 1970s who sent $121 million in earmarks to his district last year and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, in the top 10% of earmarkers in the House at $61.7 million. In 2006, Hoyer obtained $2.8 million for ManTech International Corp, a company that has donated almost $50,000 to his political action committee. The ‘culture of corruption’ that Democrats accused Republicans of permitting will find a happy home in Nancy Pelosi’s House.
But Republicans cannot just wait for Democrat mistakes and overreaching. We must show voters that we have some back to our senses and will fight for the values that they care about. A good start would be to work with conservative Democrats to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and to hold the line on government spending, especially pork barrel projects. While we can and should seek to find common ground with Democrats, we should also fight them when they advance extremist legislation. They have a majority but not a veto-proof one and we can still advance our priorities. If we can prove to voters through our actions that we have returned to our principles, the door will be open for us in the 2008 elections.
Andy Jackson is Executive Director of Republicans Abroad-Korea. All opinions expressed here are strictly his own.