September 4, 2006
Sunday's Washington Post surveyed congressional races across the country, and found that nearly twice as many are deemed "competitive" as was the case in the early summer. The list of such vulnerable GOP House districts has grown from 19 to 36, with most of them clustered in the northeast and the Ohio River basin. Morale has fallen in the traditional Republican bastions of Indiana and Ohio, and the security issue has been worn out from overuse -- and by setbacks in Iraq, of course. Political analyst Charlie Cook was interviewed by NBC News, and has reached virtually identical conclusions. Chances that the Dems could pick up the six Senate seats they would need for a majority are much slimmer, however.
As a Republican, I view these trends (or apparent trends -- WaPo is part of the mainstream media, after all) with strongly mixed feelings. Of course I want conservatives to remain in the majority, but on the other hand I also believe in accountability for past performance, and I see little to be proud of in the last two years. President Bush quickly frittered away the precious "political capital" he accrued from his 2004 reelection by a misguided push for Social Security reform in the first half of 2005. Then Hurricane Katrina shed bad light on his decidedly passive approach to overseeing the government. It is no wonder that Republican congressional candidates take pains to distance themselves from the White House. Every man for himself!
But even on Capitol Hill itself, there is an alarming absence of leadership and signs of a rift within the party, as no leaders seem capable of articulating a coherent theme and agenda that might unite the economic conservatives and the social conservatives. Immigration? What should be a sure-fire win-win issue for the Republicans (if we only had more leaders with vision and guts) lies dormant, as the public frustration mounts. Meanwhile, the public has not entirely forgotten the various scandals of Tom DeLay et al., and the vaunted plan to build a "permanent" Republican majority by such contrivances as jerrymandering district boundaries and making unsavory alliances with K Street lobbyists now lies in shambles. Ah, how the nasty lust for power tends to defeat itself... Rather than engaging in thoughtful dialogue on how best to proceed, too many Republicans are sniping at each other and/or besmirching each others' motives. ("Are you a "RINO"?)
At this point, I think the Republicans will probably manage to hold on to a slim majority in both chambers, not because they have earned it, but because the Democrats have failed to articulate a compelling alternative agenda. Incessant whining about high gas prices, hurricane damage, and car bombs in Baghdad does not add up to a plan to govern. Just think where the Democrats would be right now if the Howard Dean and the kooks he inspires had not taken over the DNC. As in 1994, however, a groundswell of anti-incumbent sentiment lacking any strong policy direction could result in a radical though inadvertent shift in direction in Washington. Can the levee of old-fashioned common-sense conservatism hold together and prevent this potential flood of left-wing folly?
Virginia Sen. Emmett Hanger has stepped up his opposition to President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" initiative, complaining that it puts a huge burden on school administrators, without any clear benefit. Good for him! Although I strongly agree with the objectives of "NCLB" -- striving to reverse the decay in this country's public education system -- I have become increasingly skeptical of the centralized policy measures it uses. In a federal system such as ours, the national government should take a back seat in culturally sensitive public policy issues such as education. The editors of Staunton's News Leader wished Sen. Hanger luck in his efforts, saying "He is going to need it."