- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Times are tough for Republicans in the House of Representatives. Widespread panic afflicts the rank-and-file after three straight special election defeats in solid GOP districts. The Republican Conference might adopt the classic rock album entitled “Who’s Next” as its political anthem.

The first reaction among some was to treat the party leadership as Henry the VIII dealt with his wives - sharpen the axes, off with their heads! But political executions rarely punish the real culprits.

In order to earn back the majority, Republicans need to stop complaining and start acting like the minority. That’s right - the minority. They should not act like a permanent minority composed of weak “go along to get along” defeatists. Instead, they should be a tough, hard-working, energetic and inspired minority. They must be a minority filled with lawmakers who are personally engaged and committed to challenging the Democrats at every level in Washington. They can do this by reopening the factory of new ideas that address the concerns of average Americans. That’s what the current majority did in 2005 and 2006 when they were in the minority. And it’s how they earned back the gavels in the 2006 election.

Too many House Republicans blame their leadership for the party’s current tribulations. This is an instinctual political response - but it rarely fixes the problem. They lament: “We don’t have a message; the press doesn’t pay attention to us; we’re not communicating effectively; we don’t have enough money.” This is a defeatist and uninspiring mantra. It also perpetuates a toxic culture of complaint that in the end becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rank-and-file members unhappy with the current state of affairs need to look in the mirror and say: “The problem is right in front of me.” Get to work.

For example, a Republican lobbyist friend of mine who works at a bipartisan firm put it this way: “My Democratic colleagues used to get personal phone calls from Rep. Rahm Emanuel, or Sen. Ted Kennedy or Sen. Harry Reid when they were in the minority. We get blast e-mails from Republican fundraising consultants. It’s just not the same. They were hungry, and their rank-and-file members all got involved and pulled in the same direction. Our guys still act like they’re in the majority and think the money will just fall in their laps. It won’t. But that hasn’t sunk in to them yet.”

The lack of personal involvement afflicts more than financial resources. Another former staffer-turned-lobbyist made this observation: “I think when it comes to committee markups, hearings and generating new initiatives, too many from our team are not showing up. It’s almost like [they think] if they cast the right votes to get reelected, that’s all they need to do. When we were last in the minority in 1993 and 1994, we challenged the Democrats more in committee, forced them to cast tough votes and even won some amendments because we played the game harder and smarter than they do today.”

The good news for the GOP is that most of these problems are attitudinal and fixable. It’s a learning process. Most House Republicans - well over 60 percent - had never served in the minority until 2007. A full 126 of the 199 GOP lawmakers were elected between 1994 and 2006 and - until the 110th Congress - they only knew the role of a congressional majority. No one teaches a class on this type of mental reorientation - there is no Minority Adjustment Assistance Program for those suffering from political change dislocation.

It is not the job of the minority to always legislate in Congress. But they must challenge, jab and point out why Democratic ideas are wrong and why the loyal opposition has a better way. That is precisely what the Democrats did in the minority in 2006 and Republicans did in 1994. Not everyone will listen the first time - and lawmakers will have to leave their offices to do it. But with hard work, it is possible to convince people that Republicans deserve consideration.

Democrats did not win the election in 2006 because of a compelling agenda; they won because they embodied an ethic of teamwork and personal involvement. That made a big impact and helped exploit Republican weaknesses. They spent less time complaining about their leadership or the media. They invested a lot more energy poking the Republicans in the eye with tough votes and offering ideas to solve real world-problems. As a group, they acted like a hungry minority and are now feasting on the majority’s spoils.

Gary Andres, who served in the first Bush administration, is vice chairman of Dutko Worldwide.

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