Another Perspective

Break Up the Congress!

By failing to wield their authority responsibly, Republicans are striking out in the clubhouse, dugout, and even the owners' boxes.

By 9.30.05

Send to Kindle

The House Republican leadership must go. Even if that means the GOP loses control of Congress. Democrats spent decades practicing the policy of spending lavishly to win elections. Republicans refined the practice in just a few years.

More fundamentally, it took the Democrats four decades to fully succumb to the temptations of power, ruthlessly abusing their control of Capitol Hill. After only one decade the Republicans are proving to be even worse.

The GOP began to sell out its principles shortly after seizing control of Congress in 1994, but the abuses continue to grow. Today, as a few courageous House fiscal conservatives press for offsets against the virtually unlimited spending proposed in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Speaker and his coterie have acted like a woman scorned. Preaching unity, they have trashed any Republican suggesting that free-spending bail-outs are not the conservative way.

Most dramatic was the political dressing down received by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), head of the Republican Study Committee, which represents more conservative members of the GOP caucus. After the Study Committee inaugurated "Operation Offset," Pence found himself invited to a closed-door meeting with Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). What was said is unknown, but it obviously wasn't pleasant. Pence later spoke to a student event organized by the conservative Young America's Foundation; when discussing the House leadership, he sounded like a North Korean apparatchik praising Great Leader Kim Jong-il.

The GOP has found that the temptation to abuse its abundant power extends well beyond dissidents within its own party. Democrats aren't even viewed as eligible to own a baseball team.

IN A CITY RIVEN with political divisions, virtually everyone has welcomed the arrival of the Washington Nationals baseball team. Understandably, some people oppose the city government's gift of a half billion dollar stadium to the league and prospective millionaire or billionaire team owners. Otherwise, however, enthusiasm for the team runs high.

Eight sets of investors are vying to win the franchise, now owned by the league. One group includes former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Another features former Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald.

And, far more controversially, one group, headed by entrepreneur Jonathan Ledecky, includes George Soros, a billionaire currency trader who (horrors!) donated $20 million in the 2004 campaign against George W. Bush. Normally that would seem unexceptional: sports franchise owners are a motley lot, with their politics running across the spectrum. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), who owns the Milwaukee Bucks, points to Marge Schott, the late Cincinnati Reds owner who was suspended for her racial slurs.

But Congress, or, more accurately the Republicans who control Congress, have taken a proprietary interest in the team. In their view, apparently, the team will not belong to the investors who purchase the franchise or even the people of Washington. It will belong to the GOP congressional majority.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who ironically chairs the Government Reform Committee, warned the league against choosing Soros's group. At risk, he implied, was the league's antitrust exemption.

"I think Major League Baseball understands the stakes," he explained. "I don't think they want to get involved in the political fights." He added: "They enjoy all sorts of exemptions."

It's ironic that the head of a committee charged with "reforming" the bloated, inefficient, and wasteful leviathan state instead spends his time attempting to allocate sports franchises. It's frightening that he wants to do so on a partisan basis.

Under fire, Davis backed away slightly. But only slightly.

He told the New York Times: "We finally get a winning team. Now they're going to hand it over to a convicted felon who wants to legalize drugs and who lives in New York and spent $5 million trying to defeat the president? How's he going to get him out to the opening game?"

The only proper response is: Who cares?

Who cares whether a minority investor in a baseball team lives in New York City? Who cares if he opposed George W. Bush? Who care if he shares the widespread recognition that the "drug war" has been a dismal failure?

And who bloody well cares whether the President comes out to the opening game? In fact, George Soros, though a highly political creature, was not thinking about politics when he joined the baseball bid. Consortium leader Jonathan Ledecky observed: "Not once did any political agenda come up."

GOP Senators seem to have taken a more measured view. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who held a fundraiser at a Nationals game, said "I don't care who owns the team." Senator and former baseball player Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) opined: "That's up to Major League Baseball."

In the midst of the controversy, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig insisted: "This is a baseball decision. It's not a political decision."

BUT SELIG IS TOO SMART and the stakes are too high for baseball professionals not to consider the politics. After claiming that he was not threatening the league, Rep. Davis observed: "This is an opportunity for baseball to market itself to decision-makers." Former Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suggested that the winner "must be a group that knows how to work with politicians."

Which in this case seems to mean those belonging to the Republican majority.

When it comes to policy there seem to be ever fewer serious differences between the two leading political parties. Both expand government power, increase federal spending, lavish money on pork barrel projects, and put their own interests before that of the public at every turn. And these days, at last, the GOP appears to be more ruthless about using every bit of the power that it has accumulated for its own advantage.

While there are few substantive reasons to choose between the parties, there now is a practical reason to vote Democratic: to put at least one organ of national power into someone else's hands. As Lord Acton famously observed, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

The GOP seems intent on proving the truth of Lord Acton's axiom.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author and editor of several books, including The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington (Transaction).