Politics & Policy

An Exercise in Leadership

Rejecting the status quo.

John Boehner has his race for Minority Leader sewn up. Everyone knows it. The only thing that could preclude it would be if he didn’t seek reelection.

Otherwise, he’ll win and will have handpicked the entire slate. This is a huge mistake and will ensure he is never Speaker.

#ad#A strong argument can be made that Boehner has gotten a raw deal. He was thrown overboard in 1998, fought back and elected Majority Leader in 2006, and was not responsible for Republican’s loss of 30 House seats in 2006 and 20 more now. Nonetheless, the losses occurred on his watch.

Americans have clearly demonstrated they want change. Republican donors and activists also are demanding change. It does not matter who the current leader is or how well he’s performed. No one’s listening. If you’re explaining, you’re losing. If Republicans have to explain why we reelected our Leader, we lose.

America is a center-right nation. On the day we elected the most liberal member of the Senate president, three states — two of which went to Obama — passed marriage amendments. In California, more than 1.5 million Obama voters also voted to define marriage as one man and one woman.

It is not because Americans no longer ascribe to the principles of smaller government, lower spending, more individual freedom, and personal responsibility, that Republicans have experienced disastrous losses. It’s because President Bush and Republicans in Congress stopped fighting for these principles.

Last Saturday, my neighbor stunned me. He said, “Republicans lost because they stopped acting like Republicans.” He is an average guy who cares about his country and its direction. Yet, it is obvious to him that Republicans in Washington have lost their way. We went along with George Miller’s version of No Child Left Behind betraying our belief that parents, teachers, and local school officials know what’s best for our children’s education. We added prescription drugs on top of traditional Medicare, increasing costs without reform. We created a Department of Homeland Security layering bureaucracy upon bureaucracy.

We stopped acting like Republicans. The only way to demonstrate we are going to change is to change. To recapture the excitement and enthusiasm to win again, all our leaders need to step aside. This will take courage and self-sacrifice. But John Boehner has both.

I ran for Majority Leader in 2006 — not because I envied the thankless task of leading our Conference — but because we needed change. The Conference was on the verge of moving the next elected leader up one chair. I ran hoping the Conference would instead vote for change. They did and Boehner became Leader. That was the right thing to do. Now, we face another challenge. To reignite the passion needed to maximize our gains in 2010, we must change our direction and our leaders.

Donors “vote” every day. In October, the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee had $54 million; the Republican counterpart had only $14 million. This disparity was not solely the fault of the NRCC chair. It was rather the fault of the entire Conference, including and especially, its leaders. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Democrats did not regain the Majority until their pre-Minority leadership stepped aside.

We may regain seats in 2010 as a result of excesses by the Democrat Congress and presidency. But, to rely solely on mistakes by our opponents would be a grave error. Obama, Pelosi, and Reid will provide reasons to vote against Democrats. However, we must give voters reasons to vote for Congressional Republicans. Only we can inspire, motivate, and excite those who believe in us to open their wallets, write the checks necessary for victory, to say “yes,” “finally,” and to jump up and down on their chairs with enthusiasm again.

We have a choice. We can keep the status quo, hold on to what we have left, resign ourselves to Minority status; or reach inside ourselves, take risks, articulate new ideas, inspire excitement and enthusiasm, and put Democrats on the defensive. I hope we do the latter, and because he is the only one who can, I hope John Boehner leads one more time, enabling, and perhaps even proposing, a new Leader. If he does, he’d be a great nominee for Speaker in 2010.

 – John Shadegg is a Republican congressman from Arizona.

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