A brief glimmer of sanity among congressional Republicans has been followed, almost immediately, by a return to the more traditional Washington insanity.
Last week, every single Republican in the Obama administration's "stimulus" package - which had stimulated an orgy of runaway spending by congressional Democrats on everything from sports arenas to sexually transmitted diseases.
This was a rare smart move by the Republicans. If the they had gone along, pursuing the will o' the wisp of "bipartisanship," then if the stimulus had by some miracle succeeded, it would have been a bill for which Democrats would claim credit at the next election.
On the other hand, if the stimulus failed - which seems far more likely - then it would be called a "bipartisan" bill, meaning the Democrats would pay no price at the next election for a colossal failure.
Since President Bush started the "stimulus package" game, this was also an opportunity for congressional Republicans to cut themselves loose from the political baggage of the Bush administration's unpopularity.
Within 24 hours, however, Republicans in the Senate came out with a plan to have the government fix mortgage interest rates at 4 percent - and use taxpayers' money to cover the losses that lenders would otherwise sustain.
It is painfully obvious that government intervention in the housing markets over the last several years has been at the heart of the boom and bust that has led to a huge economic downturn.
It was not the market, but the government, that pushed for abandoning traditional standards for making mortgage loans. That was what got both borrowers and lenders way out on a limb - and set off economic shock waves when the limb broke.
The last time the Republicans pushed for price controls was during the Nixon administration. It was very popular in the short run. But, in the long run, even Babylon. Moreover, politicians intervening in the economy is the hallmark of Democrats.
What principle separates the Republicans from the Democrats? If they are just Tweedledee and Tweedledum, then elections come down to personality and rhetoric. If that happens, you can bet the rent money on the Democrats winning.
Those considered to be the smart money among Republicans have been saying for some time that the party has to become more "inclusive" and jettison "outmoded" principles of the Reagan era. But no one has to pass an IQ test to be considered part of the smart money. Looking at the track record, rather than the rhetoric, the smart money doesn't look nearly as smart.
When have the Republicans won big? When they stood for something and told the people what that something was. Ronald Reagan was the classic example. But another example would be the stunning Republican victories in the 1994 congressional elections, which put them in control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.
Articulating the message of America" was a key to that historic victory.
Too many Republicans seem to think being "inclusive" means selling out your principles to try to attract votes. It never seems to occur to them that you can attract a wider range of voters by explaining your principles in a way more people understand.
That is precisely what Mr. Reagan did and what Mr. Gingrich did in 1994. Most Americans' principles are closer to those of the Republicans than to those of the Democrats.
It is the only advantage the Republicans have. The Democrats have the media, the unions, the environmental extremists and the tort lawyers on their side. Why should Republicans throw away their one advantage by becoming imitation Democrats?
Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.