The Republican Party has one last chance to save itself. This is the real meaning of this week's historic moment when former House Speaker and present Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi transferred the gavel to newly elected Speaker of the House John A. Boehner.
The GOP is triumphant. Mr. Boehner presides over a large House Republican majority - many of whom are itching to repeal the liberal Pelosi-Obama agenda of the past two years. In the Senate, Republican ranks are bolstered, and numerous Democrats will face tough 2012 re-election fights in predominantly red states. Hence, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will be able to pull centrist Democrats into ad hoc conservative coalitions to thwart Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House on key issues.
"Cap-and-trade," immigration reform, increased spending on education, the elimination of the secret ballot to form labor unions - the left's wish list is dead, at least for now. President Obama will be on the defensive for the rest of his first term.
Yet the GOP, despite the rise in its short-term political fortunes, faces a long-term crisis: its declining relevance as a national institution. If the Republicans do not adhere to their principles, the party will be swept into the dustbin of history - just as were their predecessors, the Whigs.
Republicans insist that they have changed their big-government spots. Great Society Republicanism is out; Goldwater-Reagan conservatism is in.
Call me skeptical. The party leadership is still full of establishment apparatchiks who were waist-deep in the swamp of big-spending corruption that dominated the GOP when it controlled Congress before 2006. Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, House Majority Whip Eric Cantor - all of them contributed to the orgy of George W. Bush-era runaway deficits, earmarks and influence-peddling that disgusted voters. They are the very same people whose destructive actions - and abuse of power - paved the way for Mr. Obama's socialist revolution.
Republicans claim to be born-again fiscal hawks - humbled and chastened by their fall from grace. Yet, during the lame-duck Congress, GOP leaders forged a tax deal with Mr. Obama that flagrantly betrays the principles on which they campaigned: The bill adds nearly $1 trillion to the soaring national debt. Even Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican and the party's point man on the budget, concedes that the compromise contains $313 billion in unnecessary spending. The White House originally sought a six-month extension in long-term unemployment benefits. It got 13 months. Instead of waiting for the new Congress to be sworn in, when the Bush tax cuts could have been restored retroactively, the Republicans caved.
Republicans claim the tax deal was the final orgy of deficit spending. From now on, they promise to balance budgets, cut spending and repeal Obamacare. Yet they already betrayed their principles in the lame-duck session. This bodes ill for the 112th Congress.
In a recent editorial, the Wall Street Journal warned Mr. Boehner that, as Newt Gingrich painfully learned in the 1990s, Republicans cannot govern the country from Congress. The GOP must capture the White House as well. Therefore, Republicans must be cautious and tactical in the fights they pick with Mr. Obama. According to the Journal, the GOP must focus on stimulating economic growth and private-sector job creation. This will give the Republicans the mandate - and record - to successfully challenge Mr. Obama in 2012.
The Journal is wrong. The duty of a loyal opposition is to oppose the governing party. It is not to help that party pass legislation or improve the economy's performance. The economic boom of the 1990s - sparked by the pro-growth, fiscal-restraint policies of the Gingrich Republicans - resulted in the re-election of Mr. Clinton rather than the election of a Republican president. The goal of the GOP is not to help the president but to obstruct Mr. Obama and remove him from office.
Mr. Obama's primary aim is defensive: to preserve the entitlement state he has erected. He understands that like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid before it, Obamacare over time will be woven into the social fabric. The longer it stays, the more it will grow roots in American society. And soon it will be impossible to extirpate. He will have consolidated welfare liberalism.
This is why Republicans must wage an all-out assault on Mr. Obama's presidency. They must pursue a scorched-earth strategy. They should seek to defund and repeal Obamacare. They should demand that unspent stimulus dollars be returned to taxpayers. They should insist that the government completely reverse the de facto nationalization of the automakers, the big banks, the insurance companies and the student loan industry. They should fundamentally revise financial reform - making sure Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac finally are reined in. And they should conduct numerous investigations into the administration's rampant criminality and abuse of power: the misuse of stimulus dollars as political slush funds to pay off electoral constituencies, unlawful attempts to directly interfere in and manipulate Democratic primaries on behalf of pro-Obama candidates and the unethical refusal of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to prosecute cases of blatant voter intimidation.
In short, the GOP must become a genuine conservative party - one committed to returning America to its free-market, small-government and constitutional roots. Substance trumps symbolism. The country is seething with revulsion and anger at the political class. Middle America rightly senses we are drifting toward national bankruptcy and social turmoil - similar to what is happening across Europe. We are losing our country. Republicans need to understand that the populist revolt embodied by the Tea Party movement is not passing away; rather, it is permanent and real.
If the GOP cannot roll back Obamaism and bring an end to out-of-control spending, Tea Partyers will find a party that can.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.
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