The New Republican Congress Must Take a Stand Against Corruption

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Despite early talk of a historic insurrection, powerful criticism from conservatives upset by what they describe as weak leadership against President Obama’s agenda, and phone lines reported melting with anti-Boehner calls from Republican voters, the Speaker secured the votes he needed to win.

It’s just not easy to force a Speaker out. They have a lot of markers they can call in, prospective opponents have a hard time getting traction, and party power players don’t like the uncertain cloud of a leadership turnover hanging above a moment of triumph and unity. Whatever else one might think of Boehner’s performance, he didn’t collapse in the kind of spectacular implosion that’s usually required to see a Speaker off, and when things get that bad, they usually start looking for a graceful exit before the voting even begins.

One of the big problems faced by the opposition party is that they lack a central figure of sufficient stature to oppose the President in the arena of popular opinion. This is particularly vexing when the media wholeheartedly supports the President, upgrading his bully pulpit to a public-relations Death Star. It’s even more of a problem in the current environment, when the Left’s rapture over Obama’s imperial presidency has led them to delegitimize Congress as an equal branch of government.

The Republic is under attack: the validity of the midterm elections is questioned, with Obama himself essentially declaring them illegitimate by saying he intends to rule in the name of people who didn’t bother to vote; the media pumps out screeds asking whether America should even have midterm elections; years of whining about “gridlock” and “obstructionism” paved the way for arguing that Congress should meekly work to enable the victorious President’s agenda, stripped of any power to meaningfully oppose it. Refusing to implement the President’s agenda is portrayed as dereliction of duty; the “power of the purse” is degraded to “you just need to find a way to pay for what the President wants”; if they don’t, he’ll bypass Congress with executive orders, or even mere informal “memos”; impeachment is off the table. Some on the Left have even taken to grumbling that maintaining two houses of Congress is an “undemocratic” waste of resources.

Restoring the political framework of the American Republic will be an incredibly easy task for voters: simply elect a Republican President in 2016. The prestige of Congress will be instantly restored! If the Democrats remain in the minority, filibusters and “obstruction” tactics will once again become the shining Excalibur of democracy, the pure essence of good government. You can bet your bottom dollar that the “power of the purse” will not be viewed as hapless submission to the President’s agenda if Democrats hold the purse strings against a Republican executive. The imperial palace Barack Obama built will come tumbling down in a matter of hours after the inauguration. I am not being sarcastic in the slightest when I say to the American voter: if you want to preserve the system of checks and balances you inherited from your storied forefathers, elect a Republican in 2016. No matter what else he does, his very existence will restore the separation of powers.

Of course, conservative voters want more than the promise of small-r republican restoration in 2016. They want things to happen now, and they are not wrong to believe that we can’t spend the next two years quietly preparing the ground for the next presidential campaign. One of the great challenges facing the GOP leadership is that they’ve simply worn out their “we’ll fight next time!” excuse. Every nickel of credibility has been drained from that account.

Unfortunately, they seem to be thinking about trying that excuse again, if recent comments from Senator John Thune (R-SD) can be taken as a tipping of the leadership’s hand. Thune essentially admitted that the one and only concession Republicans secured from the hideous “cromnibus” deal was a lie. They let the defeated Democrat Party and unpopular Barack Obama write the budget for 2015, all the way through September, funding everything the President wanted, with one exception: the Department of Homeland Security, which was only funded through February. This was supposed to set the stage for one of those “We’ll Fight Next Time!” battles, in which congressional Republicans would use this rather dubious bit of fiscal leverage to force Obama to back away from handing out citizenship to illegal aliens.

Thune downgraded expectations from a furious battle for the ages to a bit of bickering, telling Chris Wallace of Fox News that his caucus wouldn’t “shut the government down,” or even threaten to shut Homeland Security down. Instead, he mumbled something about how “we’re going to use the power of the purse, which is what the Constitution gives the Congress, as a mechanism by which to challenge the President on issues where we think he overstepped his authority.” Democrats will, of course, scream that Republicans are playing games with national security, Obama will refuse to budge an inch on amnesty, conservatives will get the strong impression that Republican leaders are more worried about Senator Ted Cruz than President Barack Obama, and the GOP will fold like a cheap tent, whispering the usual call to retreat: We’ll fight next time!

This is all extremely frustrating to the American public, which does not want amnesty, or ObamaCare, or any of the other junk Democrats have been shoving down their throats for the past six years. They charged to the polls in a historic wave election to vote against these things… and they have been told, explicitly, that their votes were futile. They’re not in the mood for two years of shushing from Party leaders whose top priority is finding calm political seas for 2016. Calm seas are often shrouded in dead winds, which yield limp sails. Meanwhile, the Left will be pouring on canvas and making full steam ahead, with Obama dumping more executive orders, and the unelected permanent bureaucracy exerting ever more control over American life.

What the Republicans should rally against is corruption. Not merely the old-fashioned kind where money changes hands under the table, although that should certainly be part of the platform. It’s time to stand up against the inherent, pervasive corruption of Big Government. The entire system has become a rigged game where the well-connected profit at the expense of hard-working taxpayers. Legalized theft is perpetrated on a massive scale. Everything is a shakedown now. Liberal politicians barely pause to mumble a bit of hollow praise for “the people who work hard and play by the rules” before screaming insults at them—racist! selfish! insensitive!—and picking their pockets.

The great thing about a bold stance against Big Government corruption is that everything currently pissing off the weary American taxpayer can be looped into it. The New Normal of hyper-regulated, heavily taxed, crony-servicing central planning is noticeably short on good job opportunities. Cash-hungry politicians jump on every sign of economic life with their fangs bared, looking for blood—they’re already talking about taxing the cheap gas they said was impossible two years ago. The odious Al Sharpton, who has done so much to foment racial unrest, is a fantastic example of how someone with the right connections can squeeze millions of dollars out of productive enterprises; internal emails from his corporate shakedown targets show they viewed their payments to him as little better than old-school gangster protection money. A lot of people are raking in big bucks while dispensing very bad advice that degrades the lives of all those who heed them. They sow hatred and division to harvest as cash crops.

All those people who complained about Wall Street getting rich off the working man’s back could stand a reminder that Big Government complicity is instrumental in such objectionable practices. Those suspicious of lobbyist influence should be given a tour of the Environmental Protect Agency freak show, where it’s tough to say where lobbyists end and regulators begin. The amount of power previous Congresses shamelessly off-loaded to unelected bureaucrats should be spotlighted. And while taxpayers are busy dealing with the absolute nightmare of ObamaCare—which even tax-prep agencies have taken to warning them about in TV commercials!—they should be reminded that insurance companies love using people as living conduits into the U.S. Treasury, guzzling tax dollars through consumer subsidies and risk corridors.

Remind the American people of how often, and how casually, Big Government and its sycophants lie to them. If these collectivist plans are so great, why can’t they ever be sold through honest argument? Why does everything have to be pushed on us with false promises, followed by endlessly-shifted goal posts? We’ve been listening to windy promises about cracking down on waste and fraud for decades, but it never happens—we just get a new round of the same promises every time conservative journalists manage to force the mainstream media to talk about the latest outrageous abuse of the welfare state. That’s because the system is inherently corrupt, and no one involved—not in Washington, and not in the boardrooms of its corporate partners—has the slightest incentive to shape up. On the contrary, they have cash-money incentives to rope in as many “beneficiaries” as possible, without asking too many questions. When it’s time to dish out taxpayer loot, the same people who claim they can micro-manage every industry in America suddenly claim they can’t keep track of a few million people, not even when they’re busy cashing government checks.

Naturally, the down side of Republicans running against the inherent corruption of Big Government is that many of them have played both passive and active roles in developing the system. They have their special friends, big contributors, and opportunistic business partners too. It’s going to be painful for them to admit their sins and repent. But that’s something they can do, even with John Boehner as Speaker of the House. They can talk about how they came to understand that Big Government means small people, how placing faith in the State requires us to break our trust with one another, and how it’s not surprising that an arrogant elite would have few qualms about preying on a populace it despises.

Any decent presidential candidate can find a way to launch a campaign from such a platform. Important steps can be taken to break Big Government down, bend the swords of power into the plowshares of free industry, and return money and power to the American people. The “power of the purse” should be quite useful in such pursuits, and the next president can finish the job by using Obama’s imperial powers to dismantle our idiotic tax and regulatory system… over howls of protest from a media establishment every bit as corrupt as the elite it serves.

Let me conclude by responding to a bit of advice the Wall Street Journal gave the new Congress:

The problem with grandiose ultimatums—such as defunding ObamaCare or else—is not merely their predictable result of accomplishing zero. They also undermine the intelligent if undramatic tactics that, at the margins over time, can change how government works.

Conservatives in the House are naturally frustrated by the lack of progress on larger tax and entitlement reform, but they’ve been too quick to elevate tactical disagreements into psychodramas. Balancing free-market principle and political pragmatism doesn’t mean surrendering. They revere the Constitution that is designed to make political change slow and difficult but are then angered when the document works as intended.

This legacy of mistrust explains the backbench challenge to Mr. Boehner’s third term. But Louie Gohmert of Texas standing for Speaker is a case of gesture politics. A serious challenge would have to come from a grown-up like Paul Ryan or Jeb Hensarling, but they have policy goals they want to pursue leading committees.

Meantime, Mr. Obama has so far made no concession to political defeat after the election. His talents for compromise are minimal, and he’ll crank the dials of executive power up to 11 and try to taunt Republicans into doing something stupid. Mr. Obama wants his opponents to revert to 2013 dysfunction, which would allow him to continue rejecting all GOP ideas.

I hate to interrupt your sneering at Louie Gohmert, fellas, but how do you fight a corrupt executive, abusing his authority to expand the power of a deeply corrupt system, by wrapping yourself in paper chains of compromise, and covering your fists with the soft gloves of pragmatism? What did the “grown-ups” in the GOP accomplish for us in the 2012 election, or the cromnibus deal? In this very short span of paragraphs, the Journal tells us its preferred strategy is doomed to defeat—the lawless lame-duck Obama will plow right through the genteel compromising pragmatic deal-makers with the force of a bulldozer, and he’ll abuse his powers to alter the very consistency of the political battlefield. Like many corrupt leaders before him, he’ll use the power of government to change the people, creating an electorate more to his taste. The people who “revere the Constitution” are not obliged to lose gracefully by binding themselves with delicate informal understandings that the opposition spits upon with contempt.

Barack Obama’s genius lay in realizing that the restraints on power had decayed into polite, unenforceable gentleman’s agreements. He decided not to be polite. He called all the bluffs. Now he’s openly asserting that Congress is subordinate to the executive, challenging one of the core principles underlying all of American government—one of the very principles this nation was founded upon, in desperate war against a seemingly invincible enemy. The least we can expect of our leaders today is a spirited argument… the kind of argument Obama must answer with a veto pen, now that his legislative assassin Harry Reid is no longer Senate Majority Leader. The measure of reinstated Speaker John Boehner will be taken by how skillfully he forces Obama to use that pen, paying a steep price every time. I submit there is no way to exact a steeper price than requiring Obama and his party to stand in defense of corruption.