Politics & Policy

The GOP’s Charlie Browns

A big, fat diss of America's conservative grass roots.

Being a Republican means never having to say you’re angry. Washington seemed to be all smiles this week as the GOP lost control of the Senate.

President Bush met with Sen. James Jeffords (R., Vt.) on Tuesday in the Cabinet Room, along with other VIPs gathered around the table to discuss education. Bush smiled, even after Jeffords shafted him and other Republicans by leaving the GOP and delivering the Senate to the Democrats. Bush even huddled with Jeffords, on camera, on the very last day that Republicans managed the Senate.

If Bush turns the other cheek anymore, his head will fall off. He has gone out of his way to satisfy the Left in an effort to bring “a new tone in Washington.” He praised the ailing Rep. Joe Moakley (D., Mass.) profusely during his State of the Union address, then attended Moakley’s June 1 funeral, sitting in the same pew as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.) and Rep. David Bonior (D., Mich.). Bush invited the entire Kennedy clan to the White House to view 13 Days, a movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis. He allowed Ted Kennedy, Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.), and Jeffords to socialize his coveted education bill, larding it with spending while stripping it of school-choice language. Bush asked former New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan to co-chair his commission to reform Social Security.

All this, of course, is not enough for the Left. Nothing ever is. Bush, to most Democrats and their supporters, is an extremist who wishes to pave Yosemite and add arsenic to the school lunch program.

Bush’s pow-wow with Jeffords showed tremendous weakness. It signaled that it’s just fine to stomp all over a president who is delighted to reward the offender with an on-camera encounter and let bygones be bygones.

On Wednesday, Trent Lott was positively beaming as he handed Tom Daschle the keys to the Senate. Lott looked as if his son had just graduated from high school.

Why the toothy grin? As Lott explained to radio host Ollie North on May 30, “There is something liberating about being in the minority. You’re not as consumed with trying to move the trains.” How refreshing. Let’s hope Lott can get a bit more sleep now that Daschle runs the switchyard.

One wonders what Lott might tell Sen. Zell Miller (D., Ga.) if he wanted to join the GOP and thus return the Senate to Republican hands. Well, Zell, no need to rush into anything, Lott might say. The Senate’s new minority leader may be the only Republican hoping Sen. Robert Toricelli (D., N.J.) survives the ethical questions swirling over his head, lest Donald DiFrancesco, the Garden State’s GOP governor, replace “The Torch” with a Republican, thus putting Lott back in charge of the train station.

Bush and Lott should have faced the loss of the Senate as sternly as Rep. Dick Gephardt (D., Mo.) did when he handed Newt Gingrich the speaker’s gavel when the GOP took command of the House of Representatives in 1995. Gephardt didn’t snarl, but he didn’t look as if he had won the Lotto, as Lott appeared to have done Wednesday.

This week’s endless smiles at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue amounted to a big, fat diss of America’s conservative grass roots. The hard work of activists seems largely for naught as the big boys inside the Beltway giggle among themselves and slap each other on their backs, even as the free-market agenda faces even steeper odds.

Those on the Right certainly cheered President Bush’s signature of his keystone, $1.35-trillion tax cut on Thursday. Still, many also worry that a growing tendency by the White House and congressional Republicans to massage rather than confront the Left increasingly jeopardizes Bush and his reform proposals.

“I’m scared,” says Bob Redman, a member of the Atlanta-based Georgia Republican Assembly, “considering the unprincipled nature of the Democrat leadership (and their media allies) and the indifference to the truth of some 40 million Democrat voters.” Redman worries that “the untaxed ‘clients’ which primarily the Democrat party has created are an automatic power base, also immune to rational argument…. Worse still, many Americans apparently don’t want a boring president who just works for them. They want entertainment. Quite a predicament for Bush.”

According to Naomi Lopez Bauman of the libertarian Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, “The recent Republican debacle and the subsequent deafening silence from the GOP leadership demonstrate that the principles of limited government and individual freedom are dead inside the Beltway — proving, once again, that power still trumps principle inside the Beltway.”

“For 20 years the interplay between the GOP’s legislative efforts and the Democrats has been a mirror of Charlie and Lucy’s football place-kicking antics in Peanuts over the same two decades,” says Thomas H. Lipscomb, a veteran Manhattan conservative and chairman of The Center for the Digital Future. “Each time the ever-optimistic Charlie Brown is suckered into trying to kick the ball for a goal, Lucy picks it up and Charlie falls on his ass and makes a fool out of himself. Peanuts is a cartoon. I wonder what the GOP’s excuse is?”

This morning brought an eye-popping contrast to this maddening state of affairs. Just hours after seeing his party buried under last night’s Labour landslide, William Hague stood down as leader of the British Conservative party. The consequences for his failure to increase Tory influence were immediate and total.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, accountability is just another forgotten, Old World virtue. As this dispiriting week for the American Right draws to a close, Trent Lott clings to power, as unshakable as a bad cough.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor, a contributor to National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


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