When John Boehner was first elected Republican leader, he said he felt like the dog that caught the car. This is a metaphor for someone who works hard to achieve a major goal, only to be confronted with the age old question “What do we do now?” If Republicans take back the House and Senate, the party will actually be the dog that caught the car.
Victory at the polls means Republicans will inherit an angry electorate that has been voting for change since 2006. The country is at a crossroads. In one direction there is big, centralized government that usurps the rights of states, local communities, and individual Americans. It’s the job of the Republican leaders to outline another direction, but that direction is not yet clear to them. This must change before the next election.
Americans punished Republicans in the 2006 and 2008 elections. Conventional wisdom said the country wanted change. The truth is that Americans saw no real difference between Democrats and Republicans. The Republican brand has gone stale and paved the way for a new era of big government and socialism. As Newsweek boldly proclaimed in early 2009, “We are all socialists now.”
Thankfully, the prospect of this socialist era enduring is slim. The American public has learned what socialistic polices really mean. A budget deficit that was $161 billion when the Democrats took control of Congress in 2007 and four years later projected to be $1.47 trillion; and a national debt held by the public that was $5 trillion and four years later projected to be $9.2 trillion. This and a lot more, including a projected $2.6 trillion cost to implement the Democrats’ healthcare bill, have soured the experience of most Americans with a Socialist Golden Age. As Margaret Thatcher said, “…Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money.” We just didn’t know that the White House and the Democratic Congress would run out of other people’s money so soon, or that they could accelerate our financial mess so rapidly.
President Obama will be remembered in history for his sweeping legislative success in bringing about an unprecedented era of big government in an American “Great Leap Forward.” And like China’s Great Leap Forward under Mao during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the result will be economic failure. At the forefront of our financial mess are broken entitlement programs. The President has hastened our financial catastrophe but he is not alone in doing nothing to fix the unfunded entitlement liabilities, which are in excess of $60 trillion for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The line of politicians wanting to avoid this problem, or unwilling to understand it, extends back for decades.
The Republican leadership has taken the innovative approach of “listening” to the American public, using the latest technology to give Americans a voice in their government. Americans can go online or use their cell phones to recommend cuts in spending on the Republican Whip’s site “You Cut” or submit their ideas to the Republican Leader’s site “America Speaking Out.” Good ideas are then mentioned on the floor of the House of Representatives or may be included in any future Republican agenda.
But listening will only get you so far. At what point do Republican leaders break the news that the country is racing toward financial catastrophe? The Republican Party is not serving the American people well if its leaders imply that catastrophe can be avoided by texting votes for cuts that even if they were adopted would have little impact on our nation’s growing debt. A freeze in spending is good; eliminating earmarks is great; shutting an entire cabinet agency might even be better. Yet after all that, our country still goes bankrupt because the tough decisions on entitlement and tax reform are being ignored.
Republicans should learn a lesson from the Contract With America. In 1994, Republican candidates ran on a set of promises that had been poll tested and focused grouped. An election was won and there were legislative successes in the 12 years that followed. Yet by 2006 and the end of Republican control of Congress, the GOP had failed to convince the public that they could govern any better than the Democrats. The lesson is clear: Republicans have to define themselves through more than rhetoric and platitudes as the protectors of states’ rights, local community control, and, most importantly, individual freedom from the growing power of the federal government.
As the 2010 elections rapidly approach, the Republican leadership must put forward a credible plan that reforms entitlements, simplifies the tax code, and has a real energy policy. These policy changes would result in a balanced budget, a shrinking trade deficit, repayment of the national debt, and put Americans back to work. History will reward Republicans if we are honest with the American people; but first we must be honest with ourselves.
Devin Nunes, a Republican, represents the 21st congressional district of California. He is the author of Restoring the Republic (WND, 2010). A shorter version of this commentary first appeared in the Washington Examiner on September 2, 2010.