Politics & Policy

Here Are Your Assignments

The road to political recovery.

Okay, class, by now you’re over your post-election hangovers. It’s time to get back to work. Here are your assignments.

To the conservative media: do more investigative reporting. The Obama administration will produce its share of blunders and scandals. Do not count on congressional committees to expose them. (Would Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid really allow a probe into ACORN’s federal grants?) The mainstream media will not do the job, either. Leave aside pro-Obama bias. As newspapers and magazines slash staffs, they lose the capacity for investigative journalism. The conservative media must fill this gap. One might suggest cloning Byron York and Stanley Kurtz — except that conservatives oppose cloning.

#ad#To the Republican National Committee: get a wartime consigliere. Three times in the past half-century, defeats pushed the GOP deep into the wilderness. And each time, a skillful chair helped bring the party back. After the 1964 Goldwater loss, Ray Bliss rebuilt the party organization and quelled infighting. In the 1970s, following Watergate and Carter’s election, some commentators wondered whether the GOP could even survive. Bill Brock revived the party with innovations in technology, campaign finance, and policy development. Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory seemed to reverse the GOP’s Reagan-era gains. Haley Barbour then revamped state organizations, and helped Newt Gingrich launch the Contract with America. Today the party needs a leader who can articulate policy messages, replant the grassroots, and outflank the Democrats in cyberspace. In light of Bliss, Brock, and Barbour, it would also be lucky if the leader’s last name began with B.

To the House Republicans: remember that freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. You cannot pass major bills. Lacking power or entrée to the White House, you cannot raise money from access-hungry interest groups. On the upside, there is less risk of another Abramoff scandal, since you’re not worth bribing. You can regain political support only through the power of your ideas. Your liberation from governing responsibility means that you have the time and flexibility to craft creative policy proposals — just as your predecessors did in past wilderness periods. (Reaganomics owed much to Representative Jack Kemp’s work in the late 1970s.)

To the Senate Republicans: use the filibuster when necessary, no more, no less. On the one hand, you don’t want to hamper functions such as national defense. On the other hand, you do want to stop bad legislation and nominations. The Democrats will call you obstructionists, but so what? When you ran the chamber, you threw that epithet at Harry Reid, and it didn’t scratch him. Swallow your pride and thank the remaining members of the Gang of 14 for stopping the “nuclear option.” Ponder President Obama and Vice President Biden using it to put Laurence Tribe on the Supreme Court.

To Justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and (yes) Kennedy: stay healthy. No explanation is necessary.

To leaky McCain staffers: shut up. Some of you are shifting blame to the candidate and his running mate in hopes of preserving your job prospects. It won’t work. Nobody wants to hire disloyal little weasels.

To Sarah Palin: Return to your roots. You must be feeling temptation to savor your newfound fame. Resist it. Wipe the stardust from your eyes, and get back to the humdrum business of governing Alaska. While you might have an appointment with destiny, two things could make you miss it. First, neglect of your duties could cost you reelection. Second, celebrity could kill the source of your appeal: your down-to-earth hockey-mom demeanor. The disloyal little weasels are spreading tales about your alleged extravagance. Quash these stories by shopping at the Wasilla Wal-Mart.

To Bobby Jindal: Watch your back. The stardust thing goes for you, too. Democrats know that you could be a tough opponent in 2012, so they will try to destroy you. Avoid giving them ammunition. Visit Iowa if you want, but don’t spend too much time away from Baton Rouge.

To conservatives in general: lighten up. The Obama administration will give many occasions for outrage. Sometimes it will be important to voice that outrage, but yelling should not be standard operating procedure.As the 2008 campaign showed, President-Elect Obama and his followers know how to parry angry attacks. Whenever appropriate, use humor. Mockery drives them bonkers.

Take this approach for your own good. It’s going to be a long four years, and you shouldn’t spend it drowning in bile. The road to political recovery does not run through High Dudgeon.

– John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.

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