A Brief Eulogy for the Republican Congress
November 4, 2006
To paraphrase Mark Antony’s eulogy of Julius Caesar, “I have come to bury the Republican Congress, not to praise it.” While I may be premature, there is a good chance that on Tuesday, the nation will rescind the 1994 Contract with America and restore a Democratic Congress (at least partially).
The 1994 Contract promised to “restore accountability to Congress … end its cycle of scandal and disgrace (and) make us all proud again of the way free people govern themselves.” This year alone, however, scandals led to the resignations of four House Republicans. Moreover, how many Americans are proud of the fact that the Republican Congress has stifled debate, forced votes on bills members have not had time to read and refused to engage in any oversight of the Bush administration?
It was only two years ago that we were told that the Republicans’ victory was the culmination of the conservative movement that began with the 1964 Goldwater campaign — when in reality, it represented its ultimate betrayal. Goldwater was a principled conservative who will forever be defined by his statement that “extremism in the defense of freedom is no vice.”
What conservative principles define the Republican Party today?
After all, it was the party of small and non-intrusive government that increased the size and powers of the government at the expense of civil liberties. It was the party of fiscal restraint and accountability that turned a record surplus into a record deficit and refused to hold the administration accountable for anything whatsoever. Even worse, with the Clinton impeachment and Terry Schiavo affair, the party gleefully pursed “extremism for the ake of extremism.”
The Foley scandal and cover-up, however, exposed the Republicans as lacking any guiding political philosophy other than the desire to maintain power at any costs. This is what defines a junta, not a principled political party or ideology.
My election night advice to both the Republican and Democratic campaigns is to party like its New Years’ Eve. This would benefit Republicans because a good hangover will only exacerbate the sting of defeat and might force them to reflect and rediscover Goldwater’s conservative values. A reborn and principled Republican Party could restore substance and civility to our political debate which has deteriorated dramatically from 1963 when President Kennedy and Goldwater discussed traveling together as opponents and engaging in debates across the country in the 1964 presidential campaign.
Democrats should let loose on Tuesday because it may help purge their anger over the past six years and enable them to focus on getting the job done come January. The new Democratic Congress must remember that they were elected to deliver results, not revenge.
Just as Mark Antony noted in his eulogy that, “The evil that men do lives after them,” the same is true of the last six years of Republican rule, which means that the Democrats will have a lot of work to do to put this country back on course. Future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set the right tone with an agenda for the first 100 hours that includes lobbying reform, enacting the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, raising the minimum wage and returning to the “Pay As You Go Rule” to restore fiscal sanity to Washington .
Of course, the Democrats should not hesitate to engage in thorough oversight and investigations of this administration. In particular, they should never pass on an opportunity to expose the Gang of Four — Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld — as liars, since Democrats have a duty to act as the de facto Truth Commission for the past six years.
Above all else, Democrats must always be mindful that the fury that has restored them to power was directed at them only 12 years ago and will be again if all they deliver is more acrimony in Washington. That is why their primary focus must remain on advancing a Democratic agenda and framing the debate for 2008, not impeachment.
As we approach the dawn of a Democratic Congress and the first woman Speaker, I am reminded of a visit to the Speaker’s Capitol Office during the Jim Wright era and discovering that the office’s commode only had a urinal. As Speaker Pelosi assumes her new office, she should let the cameras in when plumbers arrive to change the commode because it is a metaphor not only for sweeping change, but also for the Democrats’ commitment to clean up the political sewage of the past 12 years of Republican rule. More importantly it will be yet another sign to the American people that this new day brings a new destiny.