As the dust settles from the stampede of the November 2010 elections, and we go back to expecting phone solicitors trying to sell us on free cruises in the Caribbean rather than making a pitch for their candidate, the time has come to ask a few questions. How we and the people we elected answer those questions will go a long way toward predicting how much this landmark election actually meant.
Question One: What Really Happened on November 2nd?
On the surface the answer seems simple—the elections provided the United States with one of the three largest shifts in power in the last 75 years. Republicans went from being a decided minority in the House of Representatives with so little power they could be ignored with no real consequence to the president’s agenda, to becoming a powerful majority that will have no one to blame but themselves if they fail. The balance of power in the Senate shifted more significantly than many realize. Yes, Democrats still hold a narrow majority, but that isn’t the end of the story. At least 8 Democrat senators face serious challenges in the elections of 2012, while most of the Republicans coming up for a vote that year stand on very solid ground. Unless those who were just elected lose their collective minds, Republicans stand to be able to make significant and lasting changes in Washington. Since both parties have proven capable of the aforementioned mental meltdown, we should never take anything for granted.
There is, however, a more important question. How did this shift happen? My political roots lie in the ascendance of Ronald Reagan to power in the late 70s. He was the outsider, governor of a state still at the zenith of its power and influence, and the voice of conservatism in America. He also was an outsider and not the heir apparent in the good ole’ boys network of northeast Republican blue bloods. Reagan became president because of a coalition of Republicans, disaffected Democrats (later to become the Blue Dogs), and people who had given up on voting at all. For the most part, Dutch never forgot who got him there.
Those swept into office will do well to remember this lesson from President Reagan. Rand Paul certainly isn’t senator-elect of Kentucky because the Republican establishment hand-picked him. And Marco Rubio of Florida didn’t trounce Mr. “Waffler” Charlie Crist because the Republican National Committee liked him more. Paul and Rubio serve as reminders to the new Republican majority they owe their power to a grass movement of people across our fifty states who were just plain tired of having no real choice.
Question Two: What Needs to Happen Next?
There was no doubt President Obama had a clear agenda when he took office. He wasted no time in garnering his troops and plowing ahead with what he thought should be the new America. A funny thing happened on the way to enacting that agenda, however—he hit the wall of the American people. In spite of that, he did know where he wanted to take us. Had he not been such an elitist and had a longer view of things he might just have succeeded. With that in mind, Republicans must have a clear agenda, speak to it with clarity, and be willing to run the race with diligence and tenacity. Here are a few things Republicans need to do to right this ship of the greatest country on earth.
Don’t Shut Down the Government – Change It – The tactic of the Gingrich-led revolution of the mid 90s was to shut down government operations in order to force President Clinton and the Senate into compromise. While the idea had merit, the perception of the American voters led to a short-lived revolution. Eric Cantor (R-VA), House Minority Whip, and probably the soon-to-be House Majority leader, has already gone on record saying there will be no such plan this time.
Cantor’s plan is to streamline the government process and thus circumvent the kind of tactics by Democrats and President Clinton that led to the 1995 stand-off that resulted in what was seen as Republicans shutting down the government. Cantor is already laying out plans to change the very way Congress works, including rules that prevent committee hearings from being constantly interrupted by votes, asking all committee chairman to bring committee reports to the floor for debate, and doing away with legislation that ties up Congress with voting for such superfluous acts that recognize various individuals, groups, events and institutions. There is much too important work to be done for Congress to interrupt budget debate to honor whoever won the last major rodeo event.
Repeal Obamacare and then Institute Real Healthcare Reform – Numerous exit polls say the same thing: the current national healthcare plan is a disaster. The new Congress needs to act quickly to lead the way in putting a stop to Obamacare before it can damage this country any further. At the same time, Republicans have complained for two years that none of their ideas for health care reform were given a chance. While that is true, it is vital they reintroduce those measures with the same passion they had in opposing Obamacare. Tort reform, allowing insurance companies to work across state lines, and a viable alternative for those with catastrophic or chronic illness are needed and doable without bankrupting the country.
Enable Local States to Get a Handle on Illegal Immigration – It’s time for ICE to either do its job or get out of the way of local authorities facing open warfare on their borders and, at times, within their borders. Congress controls all federal spending. Use that power to defund or reduce funding to agencies that aren’t doing their job and put the money where it will do the most good. While I’m not a fan of a materialized border, it really is time to rethink how our National Guard is being used and let Mexico know we’ve had enough. Foreign funding to countries that are not acting like our allies needs to be seriously rethought.
Make Good Faith Efforts to Balance the Budget – First off, ending the deficit will not happen overnight—the gusher must be slowed before it can be capped. Congress should report directly to the people at least once a quarter with what it has accomplished to decrease spending. People are more reasonable than they’re often given credit for. Most of us know this mess wasn’t created in a day, and isn’t the fault of just one person or party. It’s time Republicans own up to their part in the budget crisis, as many in the Tea Party movement have already pointed out. Runaway spending, earmarking, and a number of other deficit creators are systemic of Washington politics in general. I would say to the new men and women in Washington, “We put you there—now remember why. If you forget why, we’ll remind you two years from now.”