Monday, May 28, 2001

Week of 05/28/2001

Stomping on Political Eggshells
- by David Matthews 2

"When watching men of power in action it must be always kept in mind that, whether they know it or not, their main purpose is the elimination or neutralization of the independent individual- the independent voter, consumer, worker, owner, thinker- and that every device they employ aims at turning men into a manipulable "animated instrument" which is Aristotle's definition of a slave." - Eric Hoffer

For more than five years, conservative Republicans controlled the US Congress.

And conservatives did not want you to forget that. They did not want you to forget that for forty years, they were the minority legislators in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Sure they held some power here and there, including having brief control of the Senate in the early 1980’s. And they certainly did not want you to forget their conservative Presidents like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and the elder George Bush. But above all else, they wanted you to remember that every case of government excess, every case of tax-and-spend budget deficits, every bloated regulation book and every over-exaggerated 1040 form came from the forty years that liberal Democrats had control over the US Congress.

So when Inauguration Day of January 1995 came about, conservatives were in sheer political ecstasy! Finally, after forty years, they were in control of Congress! People like Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, and Joe Biden would give way to Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott, and Strom Thurmond! In fact, they were having so much fun, that they almost had to outlaw it because it was so close to being downright orgasmic! Conservatives up and down the media dials were throwing parties and singing praises of their victory. Special interest groups such as the theocratic Christian Coalition were elated that they would finally be able to shove their beliefs down America’s throat!

And certainly they were proud that on this Inauguration Day of 2001, after a heavily contested election, conservative Republicans were finally able to remove the stench that was the Bill Clinton regime from the White House, giving them power not only in the Congress, but in the White House as well. With the younger George Bush in the White House, and conservatives controlling Congress, it would be a snap for the conservative movers and shakers to reshape the face of American politics in their favor.

Well, now it appears that the conservative control is coming, in part, to an end.

Despite the myth that the GOP came to power in a "landslide" (when only 20% of the registered voters actually voted in 1994), voters were not really happy with the conservatives in control. They liked the idea of less government, but they really saw little difference between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. Both groups wanted to shove some form of government down our throats. So starting in 1996 and moving onward, the voters started to chip away at the GOP power base, until finally, in 2000, they elected a US Senate that was evenly divided at 50 votes apiece. Vice-President Dick Cheney, as President of the Senate, would be the tie-breaker, and was the only reason why the Republicans held control of that branch of government.

You would expect that the party leaders would be gently walking on political eggshells for the next two years. After all, it would take only one defection, or for one candidate to die, for there to be a change in power.

Certainly the liberal Democrats and the members of the media were anxiously looking at the geriatric Strom Thurmond, who is on the verge of turning 100, and hoping and praying that he would slip on a banana peel and shuffle off this mortal coil. But even that was not a certainty, since not only was Thurmond too crusty an old fart to die, but even if God was to do the world a favor in that regard, it was a crapshoot that the Democrats would be able to get his successor. So the conservatives had a little bit of confidence that they would be able to hold on to that sliver of power until the next congressional election.

But not all was right in GOP-land, and by "right" I don’t just mean content.

There were some politicians who were not happy with the tone of their party, and the direction it was taking America towards. This splintering of the GOP had been going on for the past few years, culminating with the moderate Michael Forbes switching to the Democrats, for claiming that the GOP was too conservative; and with arch-conservatives Pat Buchanan and Senator Bob Smith becoming independents, claiming that the GOP was not conservative ENOUGH. Smith, though, found being a lone wolf too lonely, and crawled his rotund body back to the ranks of the GOP. Forbes, on the other hand, got voted out on Election Day by a Republican.

It was an otherwise little-regarded moderate senator from the state of Vermont by the name of James Jeffords who would be the most pivotal man in the US Senate. For one week, Jeffords would have the fate of the most powerful senators, and five years of GOP control of the Senate, in the palm of his hand.

Imagine, if you will, having that much power in your hand for a brief period of time. Having political movers and shakers, whom would otherwise take you for granted and not even give you a second thought, suddenly at your beck and call, promising anything under the sun. All it would take would be your assurance that you would continue to support a party that was moving contrary to your beliefs. Or, with but a word, you could shift the balance of power more towards your liking. Would you make that deal? Or would you exercise that power, and politically castrate those movers and shakers?

Senator Jeffords chose to exercise that power by quitting the Republican Party and becoming an independent. In doing so, he shifted the balance of power from 50-50 to 50-49-1, and gave the Democratic Party control of the Senate for the first time in five and a half years.

Now the conservatives are in panic mode. Instead of having a lock on all three branches of government, they now once again have to share power with their hated enemies, the liberal Democrats. Instead of delegating, they now have to go back to deal-making. Instead of presuming authority over any issue, they now have to work to get that support.

Boy, it must suck to be them!

Conservatives are also looking for someone to blame for this turn of events. The most common question being asked by talking heads is not "What now?", but "Who dropped Jeffords?"

Some are blaming Jeffords for not being a "party player." They claim that his moderate-to-liberal leanings don’t really make him a "real Republican", but simply a political opportunist. They are trying to convince their associates that they really don’t need Jeffords anyways, and that he was always a liability.

But hold that childish temper tantrum for a minute.. Jeffords was a Republican Senator for over twelve years, long before the so-called "Republican Revolution." He could have switched to the Democratic Party at any time they were in power! Certainly he could have crossed over when Bill Clinton came to power in 1992 and further cement the Democratic power base.

And while we’re on the issue of political opportunism here, how about we go back in time to that 1994 election, shall we? A certain Georgia congressman by the name of Nathan Deal had just been re-elected as a Democrat. The minute he realized that the balance of power in the House was going to shift to the GOP, he switched parties. Now how is it that Deal’s defection to retain his seniority was a "decision of conscience" and Jeffords’ abandoning the GOP considered an act of "political opportunism"? You can’t have it both ways!

Some people are blaming Da Big W for his failure to retain Jeffords. They claim that Jeffords felt slighted when President Bush forgot to invite him to the White House to honor one of his constituents. I realize that politicians can be extremely petty, but do you actually think that a senator would be willing to make that kind of monumental shift in power just over a forgotten invitation? If you do, then you also believe that the GOP shut down the federal government in 1995 over House Speaker Newt Gingrich being snubbed on Air Force One.

Some are blaming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott for not keeping a tighter control over his more moderate members. It was Lott, after all, who kept Jeffords from serving as chairman of the Environment and Public Works committee, and instead had this ardent environmentalist chairing a committee he did not want to work in. Certainly Lott could bear some of the blame in that regard, but running the Senate does not work in a vacuum. There were others who also made it their point to keep Jeffords out of key positions of power where his moderate-to-liberal leanings could undermine their efforts.

Let’s get brutally honest here.. the conservatives have nobody to blame for this shift in power but themselves! They could have easily used this fragile balance between Democrats and Republicans as a working demonstration of how they could work with other groups. Jeffords’ political leanings were not concealed like some kind of hidden affair (a topic some politicians know more than others). They could have easily used this as their proof that the GOP really IS the party of "the big tent", where ALL levels of the political spectrum were welcomed.

But then again, it really would be against their nature, wouldn’t it? Much like the old story about the scorpion and the frog, the conservatives cannot help but be what they are, even if it means losing power.

Deep in their hearts, conservatives have never been for compromise. Being a conservative has never been about deal-making and finding consensus. Those things have been as alien to conservatives as air is to a fish. Theirs has been to make standards and to hold others to those standards.

Conservatives have never been comfortable with the "big tent" theory of political parties, unless it is a "big conservative tent". In the minds of many a conservative, the GOP is THEIR party. Period. Moderates, liberals, and libertarians are more than welcome to join so long as they sit down, shut up, nod their heads, open up their wallets, and vote the way they are told to vote.

When Pat Buchanan sided with the Reform Party, he did more than just assume their party’s name. His people did their damnedest to turn the Reform Party into the kind of party he wanted the GOP to be.. in other words, a conservative party. When Bob Smith was looking for a political party in his brief absence from the GOP, he wanted the American Taxpayer Party to not only become an ultra-conservative party, he wanted the name of the party changed to the Conservative Party. Smith, however, quit that party when they would not change to suit his demands. And Buchanan’s transformation of the Reform Party not only alienated the more libertarian members, but it also cost him the support of the man who brought him into the Reform Party in the first place, namely H. Ross Perot.

Much like their symbolic elephant, conservative Republicans cannot find it within themselves to tread lightly. Rather, they can only stomp mightily wherever they go and deal with the consequences afterwards.

It has always been the arrogance of the conservatives that has been their undoing. It was that arrogance that cost Newt Gingrich his role as Speaker of the House. It was the arrogance of Buchanan that cost the Reform Party their fleeting support. And it was that arrogance that inevitably cost the GOP their position of power in the US Senate.

Now that they are reduced to being the minority power in that branch of the Congress, perhaps they can once again discover humility and cooperation. Perhaps they can take it upon themselves to work with others instead of lording over them. They will certainly have to try in order to get President Bush’s programs passed.

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