Tuesday’s elections left Republicans little to cheer beside New York mayor Mike Bloomberg’s reelection. Less elephant than RINO (Republican in Name Only), Bloomberg entombed veteran Democrat Fernando Ferrer beneath a 10-1 spending advantage and a record 20-point victory margin. GOP gubernatorial nominees, alas, sank in New Jersey and Virginia, while California GOP governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s four ballot initiatives were torched like a Malibu hillside. One week earlier, Coloradoans approved a “time-out” from their Taxpayer Bill of Rights. This supposedly temporary measure surely guarantees years of higher state spending.
GOP candidates and conservative causes across America surely were not buoyed by a national Republican party that appears adrift, inept, and corrupt–except when it actually is adrift, inept, and corrupt.
If they care about the party’s long-term fortunes, President Bush and top Republicans desperately need to stop behaving like Brooks Brothers Democrats. Bush and congressional leaders must clean house and rededicate themselves to the Reaganite principles that fueled electoral landslides and major, pro-market policy reforms. The alternative is more of the bland, statist pudding that gagged voters Tuesday.
For starters, President Bush must address his biggest strategic problem: his and his administration’s stunning, wholesale inability to communicate.
Why, for example, has President Bush been unable to deliver clear, detailed, and coherent speeches to explain that Guantanamo is not his personal torture chamber, but a vital facility to isolate and interrogate suspected Islamo-fascists mass murderers? He should pick 10 major thugs at Gitmo. Use Power Point to present their mug shots. Clarify how they fell into U.S. custody. Specify intelligence data that interrogators have extracted from them, including any attacks such data have foiled. Some 12 detainees released from Guantanamo have resumed terrorist operations, including shooting at American GIs. Tell us more!
White House Press Secretary Scott McMilquetoast, I mean McClellan, exudes timidity. His briefings instill neither confidence nor inspiration. The president should name McClellan ambassador to a nice, non-controversial Caribbean island.
The president needs advisors who can bring him bad news and, despite his immense powers, make him watch discomforting newscasts. Newsweek’s Evan Thomas reported that as Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans, Bush’s aides in Crawford, Tex., fretted among themselves over which of them would tell the president how desperate things were on the ground. Not until he flew to the Gulf Coast as that horrid week ended did staffers show Bush a DVD of disturbing news footage from the crippled Crescent City.
If Chief of Staff Andrew Card cannot get through to the president this way, the commander-in-chief would be better served by someone who does not fear him.
Another idea, Mr. President: Veto something.
Congress, meanwhile, should go on offense with Contract with America II, or a similar commitment to vote Yes or No on 10 key measures between, say, now and April 15. This could include:
‐Rep. Jeff Flake’s (R., Ariz.) proposal to kill Alaska’s notorious $223 million Bridge to Nowhere and shift its budget to Katrina relief. If kept afloat, that obnoxious project– alive even as Katrina’s victims still sleep on floors far from home–simultaneously will symbolize GOP profligacy and indifference to massive human suffering. The entire highway pork-o-rama should be reopened, slashed, and converted to block grants that states may spend on priorities, not trinkets. If killing the Ketchikan bridge triggers Alaska GOP senator Ted Stevens’s resignation, as he recently warned, I personally will raise the money to fly him safely home.
‐Approve Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R., S.C.) and Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R., Wis.) plan to deposit the Social Security surplus into voluntary individual accounts. Let Democrats decide if they want to continue the bipartisan habit of blowing, rather than saving, payroll tax revenues not spent on retirees.
‐If you like the current tax code, keep it. If not, Congress should free Americans to pay a low-rate, flat tax on a postcard. It’s their money. It’s their choice. Rather than something compelling, the president’s tax-reform commission created a dog’s breakfast of minor reforms. An optional flat tax would reverse this wasted opportunity.
Free-market think tanks promote brilliant ideas that would improve America, galvanize conservatives, and convince voters that the GOP is not just a pork-fueled, graft-tainted, spending machine that generates confusing, muffled noises. Washington Republicans should follow their lead, or prepare for even deeper gloom 52 Tuesdays hence.
–Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.