Shift in power could prompt positive changes


For those of us who believe in limited government, and recoil at the idea that the nation’s well-being is contingent on the amount of make-work legislation Congress cranks out, there are worse things in the world than divided government. Thus, we see a potential silver lining in the storm clouds that rocked the Republican boat Tuesday.

Gridlock can be a good thing, even a blessing, for those who believe, as we do, that Republicans and Democrats today have mostly become birds of one feather and that both camps represent a threat to our liberties, our economy and our pocketbooks. Will we libertarians like a lot of what goes on in a Democrat controlled House of Representatives? Probably not. But we haven’t liked much of what’s gone on in Washington under Republican control, either.

Perhaps a shift of power will prompt the erstwhile party of smaller government and fiscal responsibility (hint: the GOP) to return to its roots and regain its bearings. Democrats, too, are now under pressure — to demonstrate that they can responsibly share power. This new dynamic may pay dividends for the rest of us by bringing out the best in both parties.

Majority status had a corrupting influence not just on personal mores but on the GOP’s ideological foundations, as the party of fiscal discipline was seduced by the power of the purse strings. The Republican Revolution of 1994 long ago lost steam and devolved into something unrecognizable. Today’s House Republicans are just as fiscally feckless, and just as ethically compromised, as the Democrats they ousted in 1994. Politics runs in cycles: The yin has become the yang and it was time for a change.

Sharing power means Democrats can’t simply complain and snipe and offer pie-in-the-sky alternatives. They now have to step forward with serious solutions. And that responsibility can have a tempering effect on all but the most radical liberals. Will Democrats really approve a timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq? Not likely.

The party has for 30 years been stuck with the rap that it can’t be trusted with safeguarding national security, and this would only confirm those doubts. As politically unpopular as this war is, Democrats now share responsibility for resolving the situation honorably — as they now share responsibility for resolving a number of other critical issues. Acting irresponsibly now would likely swing the pendulum back in the GOP’s favor.

Free-spending Republicans have allowed Democrats to reinvent themselves as the more fiscally responsible party (which works best with Americans suffering amnesia). Now Democrats must prove that this was more than just a temporary tactical move. We’ll believe it when we see Democrats eliminating pork projects and cutting budgets.

The Republican nightmare scenario has come to pass: that “San Francisco liberal” Nancy Pelosi will be the next speaker of the House. And if she’s half as radical as Republicans claim, she probably won’t be speaker for long. This is a potential shot in the arm for President Bush, too, depending on whether he chooses the path of confrontation or accommodation.

Bush now has a potential foil to play off of, which can be a boon to a smart politician. He can repackage himself as a bulwark against the left-wing loonies who want to grow the federal superstate and raid our bank accounts to pay for it. He should be limbering up his veto pen and getting ready to rumble. The battle could bring out the Republican in Bush, while exposing the House’s new leaders as the liberals they are.

If Pelosi & Co. want to spend the next two years using the committee system to conduct anti-administration witch hunts, that, too, could backfire. Most Americans can sniff out the difference between a legitimate investigation and a political circus. Democrats will be wasting their time trying to tear down an already lame duck. And if they overplay their hand, they could actually build sympathy and support for a seemingly hen-pecked president.

Does Tuesday’s vote signal a true sea change in America? We don’t think so. Politics today has become an exercise in picking the lesser of evils. An increasingly unpopular war, combined with a sense that Republicans have been corrupted by majority status, simply made moderate-sounding Democrats a tempting enough alternative. If the lunatic fringe of the Democratic Party thinks this signals a heartfelt embrace of their most radical statist or collectivist ideas, they’re not only deluded but probably destined to become a minority again.