Saturday, December 03, 2005

Republicanism in decline

Tony Snow wrote in Townhall When Democrats gibber about Republicans' writhing in a culture of corruption, they're on to something -- but not what they think. The Republican Party in Washington is in trouble not because it's overrun by crooks, but because it's packed with cowards -- and has degenerated into a caricature of the party that swept to power 11 years ago promising to take on the federal bureaucracy and liberate the creative genius of American society.

That is absolutely true. Legislators elected on promises to cut spending now increase spending because they think they must to get reelected. They need to be challenged in the primaries by people who will really cut spending and push for smaller government.
The collapse stems from the simplest and most natural of causes, the survival instinct. Within months of seizing power in 1995, Republicans began backing away from Big Ideas, from tort reform to the necessary overhaul of the Social Security system. They started consulting pollsters to assay "correct" issues and positions. They played it safe -- or so they thought. Over time, imagination-grabbing ideas melted away. Gone was the Reaganite breadth of vision, and in its place stood the musty idol of Incumbency. Republicans drew the wrong morals from the decline and fall of Newt Gingrich. They thought his boldness got him in trouble, and chose to crib plays from the Bill Clinton playbook -- tacking left, at least oratorically, so as to appease, rather than confront, their critics.
They need to return to their roots. The extreme left does not allow Democrats to stray far from their extreme politics; why does the extreme right allow Republicans to grow spineless on matters important to the Republican Party
Hence, George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" -- a slogan that exceeded skeptics' worst expectations. That phrase, aimed at reassuring suburban white moms and queasy left-wing Republicans, became a white flag on the core issue of government size and might. Bush insiders even began boasting about "big government" conservatism -- oblivious to the fact that big government does not conserve or preserve; it crushes and digests, devouring institutions that challenge its supremacy. Leaders in the Party of Lincoln stopped talking about people, and started talking about programs and expenditures. They justified head-snapping shifts in policy by claiming the need to take issues "off the table." The multi-trillion dollar Medicare "reform" is a case in point. It was designed less to save a system than to deny Democrats a talking point. Yet, the only things Republicans really took off the table were their moral authority and the loyalty of their partisans.

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