The harder they come, the harder they fall. November 4th finished a profound housekeeping that was set in motion in March 2005 when former physician turned Senator Bill Frist diagnosed Terri Schiavo from the Senate floor (at the same time prescribing what he thought was an invigorating elixir to his nascent Presidential campaign that would leave it dead on the examining room floor).
When the mid-term elections rolled around in November 2006, they watched the ones they thought were their Best And Brightest slink away in ignominy. A few like George Allen, Rick Santorum, and Frist were just the year before giddy with the delusion that they would be taking the oath come January 20, 2009.
That night was a stunning reversal of fortune for a party that rolled out of 2004 snorting the lines Karl Rove was chopping up for them about becoming a “permanent majority.” In January 2006, you couldn’t find even a handful of Republicans who would have thought twice about hiring a crew to take a reciprocating saw to their living room wall if they wanted a new picture window–never mind if they were renting. Hell, they weren’t going anywhere!
Well, long story short, besides the uptick in sales of scotch, “Your father needs to be alone right now” was probably an oft-uttered phrase in red states and districts all over America during Christmas 2006. And FOX News HR department was never busier.
Imagine the surprise of those who survived only to realize that, contrary to so much electoral history, this wasn’t a one-time bloodbath. It’s not uncommon for the majority party to suffer a mid-term battering, even the occasional bludgeoning, but Americans are notorious for their political buyer’s remorse. Chili dogs don’t roil the American intestines as quickly as their politicians.
Erstwhile Golden Boy Bill Clinton had his organs (in this case, his majority Congress) removed and handed to him in 1994, but the ink was barely dry on Newt Gingrich’s new mandate when he challenged the President to a game of fiscal chicken, and veered off into a phone pole. Whatever Clinton had done to spark the public ire was forgiven and he shellacked Bob Dole in 1996, as the Republicans lost seats in the House.
History would have suggested that the Republicans would have come back strong this year, after the Democrats took the pistol and blew off their own requisite number of toes. Even the flaccid stewardship of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, though, couldn’t bring the voters back to that much-ballyhooed Big Tent when the economy cratered and business behemoths that for years had been declaring that an unregulated marketplace was the most miraculous balancing force on God’s earth were suddenly pleading for help from big government.
Add to the mix a charismatic young black man with a gorgeous young family, the ability to draw Pope-sized crowds, an oratorical prowess not seen since Mario Cuomo, and a stump speech that assailed the effects of years of Republican politics on the lunch bucket and mini-van crowd, and the Republicans were all but propped up for another shellacking. And that was even before they selected Sarah Palin.
Put it all together and that’s a lot of carnage over a relatively short period of time. The Republican Party is in little better shape today than Beirut in 1983. Jack Abramoff is prison, Alberto Gonzalez has joined the ranks of the unemployable, Tom DeLay is out of power and off writing grumpy books, Marilyn Musgrave ended the hostage standoff over her office and is conducting her vitriol against gay marriage and stem cell research from the relatively benign of ranks of the civilian, and on and on and on.
But this is America, and we have to have a vocal minority. The opposition has to start rebuilding somewhere. Coulter, Hannity, and Limbaugh don’t seem to count anymore. After years of the same shtick, they’ve become caricatures. Their audiences have the same expectations as the people who go to see Gallagher smash watermelons. It’s old, they know the routine by heart, but it’s comforting and reassuring, like an old warm blanket.
So, for anyone wondering about the new face of the Republican opposition, look no further than the snarling visage of Louisiana Senator David Vitter. Twice in the last week, Vitter has stepped up and all but proclaimed himself the leader of the resistance, first calling against any allocation of the remaining TARP funds and then being the lone member of either party to vote against Hillary Clinton’s confirmation as Secretary Of State.
We’ve seen the messenger, but it’s still not clear what the message is going to be. “Government is not the answer” doesn’t even make it up the flagpole in the wake of AIG, Citigroup, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, etcetera. “Standing up for the working class” is just as rickety, with much of the working class seeing their former houses boarded up while watching finance executives clamoring for their $10 million bonuses. “Family values?” That one’s dead on the side of the highway in Wasilla, Alaska. Besides, given the address books his name has appeared in David Vitter won’t even visit the same time zone as that one.
It’s been suggested that Vitter is facing a primary fight in 2010 and doesn’t want to be outmaneuvered on the right, but it’ probably not worth a lot of conjecture at this point. The position exists and someone’s going to fill it. There always has to be an opposition, and over the last few decades, it’s been fashionable to be as rancorous as possible. That tone may not carry as much heft as it used to. With more than enough problems to send the delivery truck around everyone’s neighborhood twice a day, and even the rich getting ripped off, a lot of people are going to be inclined to relegate contrarian bomb-throwing to the “not helpful” category.
A healthy questioning of issues is essential for any functioning democracy, unless it’s merely surliness for its own sake. We all learned at an early age that we could do dramatic and attention-getting things with our urine and feces, but most of us learned early on that it served little purpose to do. Some have taken longer than others to learn that. Some never learn. But, if only for a brief few years in time while people are more inclined to work together to figure out how to restore solvency to the country, it’s a little safer to walk into the fray at least. Just pay no attention to the man from Louisiana.