Tuesday, millions will look to Republicans to stand on principal. Some anecdotal evidence indicates, non-specifically, that they could have, maybe; just possibly, begun to see not only where they went wrong, but to also recognize the overriding perception that Congress is inherently flawed, comprehensively dysfunctional and must reinvent itself. Only Congress can fix Congress. Go ahead; pull off the band aid and spare us the pain. (Note to Mr. Boehner; releasing your plan for how you’re going to “time manage” Congress is not what we’re looking for in the old reinvention department’ just saying!)
Voters have a point; insurgents and frightened independents will give Republicans one more chance to stand on principal; walk the talk, to perform within a divided government. Republicans win because they enjoy three types of voters: party loyalists, insurgents and frightened independents. Some voted for a conservative agenda, some from habit and some as a counter weight to slow things down. Those votes are not all ideological. We call them independents; they decide who wins and looses elections. Best, we respect their sensibilities at the outset. There is plenty of space to do so.
Independents are, like it or not, a counter force to a pure conservative agenda, there are a lot of them. Logic demands that if you accept the premise of valid counter force in one situation you have to recognize it in another. R’s campaigned, in many districts and states, as a counter weight to the Obama agenda. Independents will not campaign; they just won’t support you if it goes too far one way or another. Independents have principals too, they value rationality and balance. They, above all, should value transparency and honest engagement of issues as an acid test. They can be persuaded over time if the logic holds up and behaviors are consistent to rhetoric.
The report card for standing on principal will consist of the number of times the President hoists the veto pen, or seeks protection in a divided Senate. Republicans, should they not stand on principal to a larger versus lesser degree, are done, for good. If Republicans mess the bed the result could be the emergence of a new major political party. A new party will likely be ideologically conservative, non-traditional in structure with the potential to disassemble Republican infrastructure; assuring Democratic dominance for the foreseeable future. If they’re not careful Republicans could become the actual third party.
Conservative principals and progressive roadblocks will define the D‘s and R’ to a fair thee well. In the absence of a realistic ability to generate change in the law; little can be done short of defunding which also falls to the veto pen; setting the stage for political crisis that could well be the punctuation mark to the 2010 election. A reprise of the Federal government closure a possibility in the context of irresolvable differences based on immutable principal. Or, it could start as simply as a refusal to authorize an expansion of the debt ceiling thus limiting the administration. Capping debt should be the first move of consequence.
A lame duck Congress could trump any number of Republican intentions. While lame duck D’s may not expect what they do to stick, they can muddy up the R’s “un do” agenda in the hope of making them appear ineffectual in 2011.
Standing on principal comes with being prepared to pay a price; application of principal over expediency always comes with a price, at least in the short term.
The alternative is some degree of compromise, and what degree? Democrats currently running against or away from health care should, logically, support a revised bill; veto threat not withstanding. If repeal and revise bears bi-partisan support based on functional compromise, the effort carries a stronger message than a Republican only piece of legislation; a potentially stark comparative to the Pelosi Congress. Democrats are well aware, based on their campaign themes, that health care is a political Albatross as is stimulus, the economy and Cap & Trade. Their mission in the short term will be to hold their seats against a rising tide of conservatism. The only viable option for Democratic moderates and centrists is to make common cause with Republicans. It may not be much; it may be enough.
A bi-partisan coalition, even on the fringes, tends to solidify the political middle ground. Would it be horrific if Speaker Boehner stands with D’s and R’s alike, giving some measure of credit for a revised health care bill to centrist Democrats? A bi-partisan coalition removes the President’s option of simply blaming the R’s and further splits the D’s. The next time the President “springs one” on Republicans would it be untenable to see Republican leadership respond by simply saying; “I really have to speak with the President before responding”. To be rational, respectful and absent kneejerk red meat responses essentially forces the President to engage Republican ideas that he would rather ignore or keep at rhetorical arms length. The red meat can come later.
If the 2008 election mandated the past 21 months, as the President has many times contended; (“Well John, as you know the election is over”), will the President follow the logic and empower the results of this election? Of, course not; this is not logic, this is politics. (Perhaps a significant portion of the overall problem rests with that truism.) The President cannot simply walk away from his agenda and his achievements and admit, in essence, that it was all a big mistake.
House leadership capable of passing corrective legislation by a 65% or 70% margin in the House delivers a variety of messages and limits themes that can be aimed at Republicans except from the out of power left. The prospect of such a coalition is brushed aside by most; however the possibility, on an issue by issue basis is there. The question is; is it wise? Republican leaders think so, apparently; there are already reports of internal discussions between Republican factions about the nature of the agenda in the House.
Does an 80/20 compromise formula represent abandonment of principal or the reality of a new coalition that creates the ability to do more than just stop the Progressive agenda? The Republican Pledge lays the groundwork for compromise in the number of issues absent from the document and the important of those issues.
Will conservatives see compromise as real-politic in the interest of progress within the big picture? Or, will conservatives fixate on compromise as 2011’s version of political original sin; to wield a bludgeon or engage in persuasion?
If a House coalition reverses or revises health care, reduces spending, revisits financial regulation, kills Cap & Trade for the foreseeable future and puts the union agenda in its appropriate place the economic impact could be stunning. That circumstance will set the atmospherics for 2012. Democrats, responding, to voter movement toward conservative ideas will be in a position of “one and done” if they maintain their connections to leftist pressures and simply become this Congress’s party of no. The same jeopardy exists for conservatives should they compromise principal to point of pure political expediency. Shared jeopardy should be a positive and mutually self interested point of motivation. We are, after all, discussing politics and politicians.
R’s can redefine the D’s by way of moderate compromise. Few believe that there are no functional ideas on the Democratic side, nothing worth considering, that there are no smart people over there or that some degree of mitigation is simply unacceptable at any level. Polling consistently exposes the left of the political spectrum as representing 22%-27% of the electorate. The recent four year experiment with Progressive solutions is on the verge of being soundly rejected. Ideology aside; strategically, Democrats must move to the center, and Republicans can help them get there; that is where the votes are, that is where the independents are.
Reasonable compromise that maintains strong connection to principal allows the R’s to impact the Presidential election on the D’s side of the equation. Should the election Tuesday confirm expectations and should centrist and conservative D’s be embraced by the R’s the impact is far ranging. If Presidential veto’s are pressured to the point of ideological exposure, if things actually get done, insurgent Democrats will be emboldened to engage a sitting President in primaries. An Associated Press-Knowledge poll shows that 47% of D’s want a primary challenge to the President. A significant percentage of these D’s are Hillary supporters and recent blog postings are clear; they have not forgotten what the Obama campaign did to Hillary. A primary challenge will likely lose. Potential challengers must adopt one of two positions; either as a rational centrist or a position that the President was right with incompetent execution. The left is fully occupied by the President and a challenge from the left will be little more than symbolic. D’s are faced with a strategic choice, maintain the Progressive agenda with a promise of competency or move to the middle! The Progressive agenda; works, electorally, every once in a while in specific sets of circumstances nationally; the agenda in application is typically rejected in fairly short order. We might also recall that Hillary self described herself as a “modern progressive”!
Expedient rejection of Progressivism by non centrist D’s may be necessary to survive and at the same time expose their own version of a lack of principal. They must choose between time in the political wilderness or self rejection of principal?
It’s not about a single election! It’s about the next two elections and it’s about being confident in persuasion based on results. Conservatives must be confident enough to engage in persuasion and leadership by example. They must be confident enough to understand that getting 80% of a win is still a win.