- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2010



Sometimes it’s hard to leave well enough alone, or to get out of the way when your enemy is busy destroying himself. There’s usually a temptation to help.

The Republicans still don’t know what to make of the “tea party” phenomenon. Many of them, maybe most of them, think it’s all about them. Public-opinion polls show much promise for the Republicans. But the poll that shows that 60 percent of the voters disapprove of Democrats also finds that 68 percent don’t like Republicans very much, either. Nobody likes to think he stinks, but from time to time even the freshly scrubbed among us should remember the admonition of the poet Bobby Burns, who observed that “O’ wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us: to see ourselves as others see us.” But anyone, well-scrubbed or otherwise, who would take the famous Scotsman’s admonition to heart is hardly qualified to serve in this Congress.

The Republicans in the House introduced this season’s version of the Contract With America the other day and it sounds a lot like a reminder of what happened the last time the Republicans had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and blew it. This time they’re calling it a “pledge,” not a contract, but they’re counting on short memories of the voters. The rhetoric is language swiped from the tea party, and some of it sounds authentic enough. “The land of opportunity has become the land of shrinking prosperity,” says Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. “Our government has failed us. We will take back our country. We will restore a better future. This is our pledge to you.”

It’s not clear how anyone Republican or Democrat could “restore” a future, to repair something that hasn’t happened yet. Indeed, some of the language in the Republican “pledge” sounds straight from the mouth of the kind of bureaucrat the tea party folks have sworn to dispatch to the Island of Lost Luggage. Like this: Self-appointed elites have established and nourished an arrogant and out-of-touch government “without requesting the input of many.” The “input of many” is hardly the stuff of the golden celebration of Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” And this: Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas says he knows what the people want and he vows to “give them a deliverable.” Alas, that’s how Washington talks. Worse. “marketing-speak” is how Washington thinks.

The Republican pledge of 2010, worthless until the party actually takes back the House and even after that unless somebody remembers what happened after Newt Gingrich’s legion prevailed on Election Day 16 years ago. The contract dribbled away, cast into the dark sea of forgetfulness, and soon Congress was awash in a new set of rogues and rascals with all the greed and cheap avarice of the rogues and rascals they replaced.

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, one of the good guys, concedes bluntly: “We lost our way.” In their pledge, Mr. Ryan and his colleagues promise the usual bromides, to cut taxes, eliminate the regulations strangling the men and women of ambition, hard work and innovation, Barack Obama’s ever more unpopular health care scam and the stimulus that hasn’t stimulated. But there’s something actually new: to enforce a requirement that every piece of legislation cite the constitutional authority on which it is based, and post a clearly written description of the legislation and its expected benefits three days before it’s called to the floor of the House.

Not every Republican congressman shares enthusiasm for the public pledge, and there was considerable debate about going public with the big talk. The wary Republicans fear voters with long memories, and argued that the Democrats are doing such a good job of electing Republicans there’s no need to help. As if to prove it, both the president and the vice president were at it again this week. Mr. Obama told a fund-raiser in New York City - where he was heckled by gays for not delivering on campaign talk of a cure for AIDS and repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell - that “the last election was about changing the guard, and this election is about guarding the change.” This looks past the abundant evidence that his “change” is exactly what’s making so many so mad.

Joe Biden thinks the tea party is “the best thing to happen to the Democrats” because it might inspire lethargic voters to turn out, to where he did not say. “Democrats,” he said, “have a heck of a record to run on.” He quickly added that he meant “a heck of a positive record.”

• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.



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