Many Republican House members, and the bloggers and tea partiers who cheered their victory in gaining a majority in November 2010, seem to be seething with discontent and eager for confrontation.
They believe, reasonably, that their victory represented a repudiation of the vast expansion of government by the Obama Democrats. They want to see those policies reversed, and pronto. And if the dilatory Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the all-campaign-no-governance President Obama want a confrontation, so much the better.
Such impatience is unbecoming in those who call themselves “constitutional conservatives.” It is James Madison’s Constitution that prevents the winners of one election from directing the course of public policy as unilaterally as, to take one example, the British Labor party marched Britain into a socialist welfare state on the basis of one election victory in 1945.
We have a House of Representatives, 100 percent of whose members were elected in a historic Republican year, a president elected in a historic Democratic year, and a Senate, two-thirds of whose members were elected in historic Democratic years and one-third in a historic Republican year.
It should not be surprising that they cannot agree on policy. Most of the high-minded folk who decry “gridlock” would like the Republican House to say uncle. The Republicans bemoaning their leaders’ lack of boldness imagine that if they force confrontation they can somehow prevail.
Neither can succeed in the framework the Framers gave us — not until another election.
The Republicans who seek changes in policy need to exercise prudence in framing issues in order to gain a favorable verdict from voters in the election coming up this fall.
Speaker John Boehner — who started off as a rebel himself and served as a leader when Newt Gingrich moved policy (sometimes adroitly, sometimes maladroitly) in a Republican direction — is as well positioned as anyone could be to make judgments on when prudence should override principle.
But say this for the impatient Republicans: They have a worthy goal.
They want to turn back the Obama Democrats’ advance into what Alexis de Tocqueville — the author (according to Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield) of “the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America” — characterized as soft despotism.