Saturday, May 31, 2008
What is Wrong With the Republican Party
"Why am I not retiring in Washington? Because I don't want to have to listen to a bunch of people telling me how they are saving the world. I've already saved the world."
-An associate of mine who was in the process of retiring from the Dept of Agriculture, told to me in the 1980s while I was working at the US Consulate in Milan, Italy.
Back around 1990-1, when George H W Bush was president, I had recently moved from Pittsburgh to the Washington DC area (Northern Virginia) when I was transferred to DEA's Office of Training in Quantico. (Fortunately for me, I didn't have to drive into DC to work, but had a leisurely drive to Quantico through back roads. I was also able to avoid our HQs office with all of its bureaucracy-which I will refer to later). At any rate, one day, I got a letter in the mail from some bunch identifying themselves as "The Republican Inner Circle". I wasn't sure why I got the letter since I have never been registered with any political party though I traditionally vote Republican. The said letter just another way of asking for money, albeit in an interesting way.
I don't remember the exact details, but it went something like this: If I contributed a certain minimum amount of money, I would get some certificate or patch or some memorabilia identifying me a member of the Republican Inner Circle. A larger contribution would enable me to "be briefed" on policy by some "important administration official" (probably a DEA Hqs type, I thought to myself). An even larger contribution would enable me to have lunch with a higher administration official, whereupon, I could exchange views with this unnamed person. As I recall, the maximum gift would mean I could attend a "high-level Republican strategy session", whatever that meant.
Mercifully, the contribution categories came to an end (in the multi-thousands of dollars). I figured sarcastically that if I gave, say, a million bucks, I would be able to push the red button and launch World War 3.
Suffice to say, this left a bitter taste in my mouth. I sent no money, and I sent no reply. The result was that I was even more convinced that Washington was inhabited by people had had lost all contact with normal society and that I had made the right decision by remaining independent-no matter whom I voted for.
This stretch of living in the DC area lasted 8 1/2 years. It wasn't my first period of living there, at least temporarily. I had spent 6 months in the DC area while attending the State Department Language School (Foreign Service Institute) in Rosslyn, Va in 1974. (Don't get me going on the State Department.)
This rather convoluted introduction about Washington DC is meant to explain one of the main things that has gone wrong with the Republican Party today-namely, that they have fallen victim to Potomac Fever, in effect, have become corrupted by the Washington mentality.
It is hard to explain the Washington mentality to anyone who has not spent a lot of time there. It not only affects politicians and their staffs; it also affects government workers who are eventually transferred to Washington by their agencies. In the case of DEA, it is policy that once an agent rises from street agent to supervisor, a HQS tour of duty of 2-3 years is a necessary career step. At that point, an agent literally changes worlds and outlook (sometimes referred to as a frontal lobotomy). He or she goes from being a cop to being just another suit working in the bureaucracy-carrying out the wishes and policies of the top levels of the agency, which in turn is under the supervision of the Attorney General.
In the case of politicians, many of whom have now spent decades in Washington, they are completely removed from the every-day world as they wield power in the process. But we should remember that the Republicans are supposed to be the party of smaller government, less government intrusion into people's lives and lower taxes, right?
Well, not exactly.
Something has gone wrong with the Republican Party in recent years. At the risk of making an oversimplification, they came to Washington and became part of the system. Many have arrived in Washington thinking they were going to change Washington. Not going to happen. Washington has changed them.
For Democrats, this is not a real problem since they stand for bigger government anyway. They are basically doing what their liberal constituents want them to do; make more laws, more regulations, create new programs and raise taxes.
But the Republicans-especially those who came to power in 1994- were supposed to stand for something different. They came up with the Contract with America, thanks to Newt Gingrich. They took control of Congress. George W Bush has been president for more than 7 years years, and what has happened? Did government become smaller? No. Did spending decrease? No. It is higher than ever. Have Republicans fought earmarks and pork barrel spending? No. Remember the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska? Introduced by a Republican. Many in California will recall the recent Transportation Bill that gave tons of money to Kern County so that a beltway could be built around Bakersfield. Kern County actually got more dollars-not per capita-more dollars than LA County, even though Kern has a tiny fraction of the population of LA County. How did this happen? Thanks to a Republican congressman from Kern County.
So, let's be frank: with some exceptions, Republicans in Congress have completely betrayed their constituents back home. They have fallen in love with the Washington culture, have joined the system, and the only thing that matters is getting re-elected and maintaining their power. As a result, they have paid the price. They lost Congress in 2006, and they will probably suffer more losses in 2008.
They deserve it.
We have also seen more than our share of Republican scandals in recent years. Mark Foley was forced to resign when it became known he was chasing under-age pages around the Capitol. Larry Craig was arrested for soliciting an undercover vice cop for sex in a Minneapolis bathroom. David Vitter got caught up in the DC prostitution ring. Ted Stevens recently had his Alaska home served with an FBI search warrant. The latter three names I mentioned are still in Congress, refusing to resign.
Meanwhile, with certain exceptions, Republicans in Congress have joined their Democratic counterparts in refusing to do anything meaningful to stop illegal immigration. Only an outraged populace, that bombarded them with calls, emails, letters and faxes last year, kept them from passing an amnesty bill.
And finally, what do we have for a Republican presidential candidate this year? Why, it's John McCain, who has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into supporting border enforcement, who organized the "Gang of 14" that made a deal with Democrats when they were blocking judicial nominees, and who gave us McCain-Feingold "campaign reform". To be sure, McCain has many admirable qualities, and he figures to do the right thing in the War on Terror, judges and spending. But he has antagonized many conservatives with other actions as well as his apparent disdain for those who point it out.
So what should Republicans do to right the ship?
1 They must stand for conservative principles-even if outnumbered by the Democrats-even if they must go down to defeat on votes. At least, we will know who stands for what.
2 They must weed out the bad apples who have discredited them (Vitters, Craig, Stevens et al.)
3 Republican candidates for office should bluntly tell their supporters not to expect pork from them once they get to Washington.
4 Newly-elected Republicans should refuse to suck up to the senior leaders who expect them to go along with a corrupt system. If they don't get plum committees or they wind up with an office next to the men's room, tough. If their party doesn't support them for re-election tough. At least the public will know.
Finally, cases of out and out political corruption involving bribery need to be vigorously investigated by the Justice Department and offenders punished in draconian fashion by the courts.
I know what you are saying: How naive. Well, yes, it is naive. I don't really expect these things to happen. But it has to start with the voters, who need to let Washington know that they are fed up with a corrupt system of government. Maybe then, the Republican Party can return to its core constituency.
In the meantime, I sure ain't joining.