- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2012



Politics is not a game that comes naturally to Republicans. Little boys in Republican families usually want a briefcase, not a baseball glove, a football or boxing gloves for their sixth birthday. President Ronald Reagan, the modern Republican icon, was a Democrat first, after all.

The giants of Congress when Congress was respected — and, more important, feared — by nearly everyone, were mostly Democrats, and Southern Democrats besides.

So there’s no surprise now that President Obama, armed with a well-fitting suit, well-shined shoes, a gift of gab and a unique skill at hijacking America for extended guilt trips, is about to roll the Republicans at the lip of so-called ‘fiscal cliff.’

Several Republicans who were breathing fire (or at least an occasional puff of smoke) only yesterday, loudly proclaiming themselves warrior heroes in the war on irresponsible spending and the evils of big government, are searching now for something white to run up the regimental flagstaff.

Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia — what passes now for stalwart Republicans — have signaled to the White House that now that they’ve got the speechifying off their chests, they’re ready to do what they said they would never do. They want to relieve the president of any notion that he’ll have to offer something in return for their help to raise taxes. A pat on the head would be nice, but not necessary.

Republicans are brought up to believe that it’s always easier to switch than fight, and better manners besides. Making noise, even to call a lifeguard when someone is drowning, is a breach of poolside etiquette.

Nearly everyone understands that something must be done about the national debt and the mortgage on America held by China, lest Mr. Obama and the Democrats turn America into Greece without the garlic. This might even require a combination of selected tax increases and deep cuts in spending, particularly cuts in the entitlements that have reduced large swaths of the population — Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” — to waiting for government checks, drawn on the public’s bank account.

But a surrender before negotiations begin is a craven and silly strategy. The November election results have frightened many Republican politicians who read daily prescriptions for Republican recovery in The New York Times and The Washington Post and conclude that the only strategy for winning like Democrats must be sex-change surgery.

Mr. Chambliss, for one prominent example, led the flight from the sound of the guns, renouncing his no-new-taxes pledge even before hearing an Obama promise to cut spending. In the past, such Democratic promises haven’t been worth much. Mr. Chambliss is an experienced sunshine soldier.

He took military deferments during the Vietnam War, and never served; in an earlier, more robust America, this would have been called “draft-dodging.” Running later against Sen. Max Cleland, who left several limbs in Vietnam, Mr. Chambliss suggested in one campaign commercial that the amputee warrior was a soulmate of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein simply because he was skeptical of the creation of the Homeland Security Department.

The campaign commercial, over the line or not, was clever, one Republican strategist said, because it worked. John McCain, who had proved a thing or two about patriotism and raw courage in a prison cell at the notorious Hanoi Hilton, called the Chambliss commercial “worse than disgraceful, it’s reprehensible.”

But even Mr. McCain sometimes has trouble with what the Marines call “fire discipline,” shooting when the shooter later wishes he hadn’t. A fortnight ago, he warned Mr. Obama not to appoint Susan E. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, as secretary of state because she led the White House cover-up of what happened in Benghazi, Libya. But now he and Mrs. Rice are blowing kisses at each other. Mr. Graham, who had romped when Mr. McCain stomped, now says she only should be held “accountable” for whatever it was that she did, if she did.

Second thoughts may be better than no thoughts at all, but politicians who succeed at flying by the seat of their pants know that the climb down from brave talk never feels as good as blowing hard in the first place.

Republicans tempted to renounce their no-tax pledges in return for a few nice words from the Democratic media should keep in mind what happened to President George Bush the elder. He invited one and all to “read my lips, no new taxes.” One and all did just that. The rest is history, about what happens to faithless politicians.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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