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“Wanted: Political Leaders They Respect” by Clark Judge

Monday, December 20, 2010  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

The Monday morning column from Clark Judge:

Wanted: Political Leaders They Respect
By Clark S. Judge, managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc. <> , and chairman, Pacific Research Institute <>

It’s about time.

Last week saw a pair of pass-the-torch moments. The first was when Democrat majority leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi failed to jam through one last massive all-purpose spending bill. The second was when they couldn’t perform their planned exorcism of the Bush Administration’s growth-oriented tax policies and indeed got frozen out of tax negotiations between the White House and Senate Republicans. In those two events, it became clear that the sun had set on the worst congressional leadership in modern history.

The question now is, what will the new day look like? It may take more than one Congress to know for sure.

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Congressional Republicans have clearly got the people’s message: Cut spending; reduce government. Yes, there was a lot of spending in the tax bill. It was the Administration’s price for going along. Some say the GOP should have walked away from the deal, trying again with the new Congress. But remember that the negotiations on the bill were between the president and Congressional Republicans. Congressional Democrats were not in the room. And the president will still be in the White House in January.

Perhaps with the new Congress the White House will show a flexibility that entirely escaped it prior to November’s election. But on big issues like repeal of the health overhaul, don’t bet too heavily on it.

It has probably not occurred to Hill or White House Democrats just yet, but socialistic health initiatives have been political poison pills for their party for more than three generations.

Harry Truman tried to enact such a bill in 1946. The GOP won back control of Congress in that year’s election. Lyndon Johnson pushed through Medicare after winning big Congressional majorities in 1964, and the Republicans made big gains in the 1966 midterms. Bill Clinton’s drive for Hillarycare was followed by election of the first GOP congress in 40 years in the 1994 midterms. Barak Obama’s Democrats are just the latest in a long line of liberals lured to the call of government health takeover only to run aground on the hidden rocks of popular resistance.

But here is the Democrats’ enduring advantage. Every ten to twenty years for the past seventy years, the voters have given them a big enough congressional margin to legislate to the limits of their imaginations. In modern times the GOP has never received that kind of mandate. Without a strong majority and a Republican in the White House, repeal of Obamacare is not in the cards. Neither is a radical overhaul.

The narrowness of past GOP congressional majorities has proven more debilitating to the GOP cut-government agenda than is generally appreciated. For example, some have criticized then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich for conceding so quickly to President Bill Clinton during the 1995 government shutdown showdown. But according to House insiders of the time, Gingrich probably could not have held his caucus behind him much longer than he did. More than twenty Republicans from marginal districts were starting to buckle under the pressure.

A more telling example is the run up in spending during the first six years of the Bush presidency. With the same unsteady majorities, the Bush team used spending to win key votes, particularly, so far as I could see, on war efforts and trade deals, matters dealing with vital national interests but for which GOP support was more conditional than most appreciated. On critical issues, spending was the administration’s glue for fastening a factious Congress to its policies.

The good news is that the glue may no longer hold. “May” is the key word. Compared to even a few months ago, it is now well understood and accepted that for a number of election cycles the swing vote in American politics has been looking for a political party that would cut government spending and get control of unfunded entitlements. The big question in Washington now is will that same swing vote tolerate cuts to all forms of spending, including programs that benefit those very voters?

Some polling suggests that the answer is yesl. I myself suspect that a majority of American voters are not looking for political leaders they like so much as ones they respect. And they will only respect those with the courage to walk into what has long been seen as the valley of the shadow of political death — spending cuts and entitlement reform – and to keep walking.

So the incoming Congress will be stage one, if there is to be a financial turnaround of the U.S. government. With any luck, the GOP will do sufficiently well to receive a green light from voters in 2012.

If so, that is when the true reforms will truly begin.


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