I write editorials for a conservative editorial page. After my newspaper editorialized that U.S. House Republicans should replace Majority Leader Tom DeLay with someone more concerned with ideology than partisanship, we were deluged with letters from angry Republicans. Almost all of the letters made the same argument: No real conservative would oppose Tom DeLay because of all the good he has done the GOP. Of course, "Republican" and "conservative" are not synonyms. Until more conservatives make clear that they understand this distinction, they are in for continued abuse from the Republican leadership.
Had DeLay been an ineffective partisan, bungling his attempts to keep Democrats out of power, the Republicans who wrote angry letters to us would be perfectly willing to ditch him. In the eyes of too many Republicans, DeLay is valuable not because he assists the Speaker of the House in implementing sound policy, but because he is a master at keeping the Democrats down and the Republicans up. They share the view that the important task is to keep Republicans in charge. But the question must be asked: In charge for what reason?
How well have Republicans implemented the conservative agenda since taking control of the House in 1994? The centerpiece of conservatism is a small, constrained federal government. Since 1994, nondefense discretionary spending has risen 70 percent, the Wall Street Journal recently reported. A Cato Institute analysis found that President Bush, in his first term, raised spending faster than President Clinton did. The second term looks no better.
These are not isolated, one-time emergency appropriations. Contrary to Bush administration claims, the war on terror has not caused Washington's bloat. The bloat is the product of the GOP's systematic approach to governing: stay in power by giving the people what they want -- tax cuts and increased spending, and let the next guys worry about the consequences.
In the past year alone, winners of Citizens Against Government Waste's Porker of the Month award have included DeLay, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), the entire House Republican Conference, and the entire U.S. Congress. Last month CAGW identified 600 frivolous or wasteful items in the federal budget, totaling $232 billion, that could be cut or eliminated to provide hurricane relief. Every one of those items was approved by a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican president.
Republicans, who were swept into power pledging to control government growth, have instead spent like drunken Democrats. Or like Democrats used to spend. Republican profligacy is so out of control that DNC Chairman Howard Dean is running around the country rallying Democrats by saying theirs is the party of fiscal responsibility.
Sure, Dean is being opportunistic. But the parties have switched positions in the past (Democrats used to be the party of states' rights, Republicans the party of "progressivism"), and there is no reason they can't switch again. If Democrats see that they can win by being responsible with the people's tax dollars, why wouldn't they pledge to do so, especially if Republicans are handing them the issue on a taxpayer-purchased silver platter?
Republicans have tried for years to woo black voters by pointing out how little the Democrats have actually done for them in the past four decades. Savvy Democrats are beginning to do the same to conservatives. Republicans in the past decade have treated conservatives no differently than Democrats have treated black Americans in the past generation. As Democrats have taken black Americans for granted, Republicans have taken conservatives for granted. Unless conservatives show some independence, Republicans will continue to do so.
Conservatives have to stop giving Republicans a pass on spending. This habit has only emboldened GOP leaders to act more irresponsibly. If the base is not willing to hold party leaders accountable -- by abandoning them if necessary -- then they will quickly become the lapdogs of the Republican Party, stroked every now and then, but wholly controlled by their masters.
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