- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 8, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

In the end, American voters serve as the great equalizer. When one party goes too far, voters snap the leash, as they did on Tuesday.

I still maintain that John McCain was the better presidential candidate, but I can’t blame swing voters for rejecting a party that had lost touch with the hopes and dreams of ordinary Americans, and instead deciding to take a chance on the forward-looking Barack Obama. Thus history is made.

And the stale GOP leadership deserves to be history. Take Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who was convicted on seven felony violations of federal ethics laws in a trial that paraded before the world a man utterly corrupted by power, and — worse — so arrogant that he believed he could convince a jury that a $2,700 Brookstone massage chair that sat in his home for seven years was a loan, and that he was clueless that $250,000 in home improvements were done on someone else’s dime.

Then there’s Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, who reneged on his pledge to resign from office after he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in a bathroom stall. The Republican Party suffers from a true cancer of careerism when disgraced lawmakers cling to their seats, uncaring as to how they stain their institutions.

Too many GOP leaders think it’s all about them, not the country they serve. Take House GOP leader John Boehner, who claimed that a highly partisan speech delivered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi before the first failed vote for a $700 billion bailout caused some GOP members, who would have voted for the bill, “to go south.”

Yes, Mrs. Pelosi screwed up, too. And I blame both parties for that vote. But I also know which party had the most to lose — and which nominee never recovered in the polls after the first bailout vote failed. At a time when Republicans should have been fighting against excessive spending, they turned into enablers of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s move to lard the bailout measure with an extra $110 billion in goodies.

The sad part is, Mr. McCain was different, better than the rest. He has fought earmark spending throughout his Senate career. He opposed the Bush prescription-drug plan, the pork-heavy farm bill and the special-interest-bonanza energy bill. In the end, however, voters came to associate Mr. McCain with the worst of the GOP.

And Mr. McCain helped. When McCampaign honed in on Mr. Obama’s association with Bill Ayers, an education professor who helped found the terrorist Weather Underground in the 1960s, the gambit backfired with swing voters because Mr. McCain seemed stuck in a bygone era.

I have to think that some folks simply have had enough of the sound-bite wars of the Bush years. And fair or not, GOP running mate Sarah Palin’s presence virtually guaranteed more rancor and finger-pointing over nonessential issues.

Many hardcore Republicans will blame the loss on Mr. McCain’s wobbly approach to illegal immigration and global warming. But Mr. McCain also lost in choosing to follow the Bush 2004 path to victory — that is, to work to turn out the GOP base, instead of reaching out to the middle. And while Mrs. Palin may have a promising political career ahead of her, she was needlessly provocative when she talked about rural states as the “real America.”

Let me add, there are a lot of moderate Republicans who would like to see the party move to the middle on abortion and other social issues. They were voters Mr. McCain could not afford to lose.

The Democratic Congress hasn’t exactly reformed Washington spending since taking power in 2006. It’s not just the bailout bill; members also have kept adding zeroes to their Son of Stimulus package proposals and even heaped pork onto Iraq war funding bills.

In 2006, GOP Rep. Mark Foley of Florida resigned after ABC News reported that he had sent lewd e-mails to male House pages. The family-values Democrat who picked up his seat already is drowning in scandal, including charges that he put a lover on the federal payroll.

To judge by the last two years, the Democrats may, in four years, hit the lows to which it took Republicans more than a decade to fall. They’ve won the right to try.

Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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