Make sure to check for updates at the end of this post!
UPDATE at 2:20 PM EST: John Boehner elected Majority Leader. If Shadegg had won, we could say this is 1989 all over again. This is clearly a rejection of the status quo, but is it a whole-hearted embrace of reform as the Arizonan’s election would have been? I’ll have to listen to what Boehner has to say ponder this for a bit, but, until then, I encourage readers to weigh in with thoughts of their own.
Twenty years ago when I interned for a then-relatively obscure Congressman from Georgia, a group of other junior Republican Representatives would gather once a week in my boss’s office and discuss ideas for reforming Congress and the federal government. Under the leadership of my then-boss, Newt Gingrich, these legislators made up the Conservative Opportunity Society (COS), energetic young leaders who saw themselves as building on the ideas of then-President Ronald Reagan and working toward a Republican majority.
When the Gipper’s successor, President George H.W. Bush, tapped then-House Minority Whip Dick Cheney to be Secretary of Defense in March 1989, Gingrich defeated Ed Madigan, the favorite of the House Republican leadership, by two votes for Cheney’s old job. Just over five years later, Newt would lead Republicans to victory in the 1994 mid-term elections by running a campaign based on the Contract with America, a policy agenda developed, in large part, in those Conservative Opportunity Society meetings. My former boss would become the first Republican Speaker in four decades.
That is, for more than a decade prior to his 1994 triumph, while Republicans were in the minority, Newt and his COS colleagues were working on ideas for reform. They were not just an opposition party challenging the increasingly corrupt practices of the then-Democratic majority. They were also thinking about the future and developing policies to address social changes and to respond to technological innovations. In short, in the 1980s and early 1990s, the energy for reform came from a cadre in the minority party while the corruption came from the majority party.
Today, given the Democrats’ latest mantra about the Republican culture of corruption, one would think that the roles had been reversed, that the GOP (now the majority) had become the font of corruption while a cadre of Democrats was putting forward new ideas. Not exactly. While, to be sure, the latest scandal affects the majority (this time, Republicans) more than the minority (i.e., Democrats), the energy for reform also comes from the majority. Under the leadership of Indiana’s Mike Pence, the House Republican Study Committee (RSC) seems to have taken the mantle of the Conservative Opportunity Society and been the font for new ideas. There doesn’t seem to be a Democratic counterpart to Newt’s energetic cadre.
With a leadership battle, this time for House Majority Leader, as significant as that in 1989 taking place today, John Shadegg, a member of the RSC, seems to have assumed the Gingrich role of reformer while Missouri’s Roy Blunt seems to be the 2006 equivalent of Ed Madigan, that is, the leadership’s favorite. Like Bruce, I personally hope Rep. Shadegg prevails. A third candidate in the race, Ohio’s John Boehner is also, like Shadegg, running on an agenda of reform. (SoCalPundit has heard that Boehner has the race “wrapped up.”)
Thus, while Republicans have become “entrenched,” facing some of the same problems which helped defeat Canada’s long-ruling Liberal Party last month, they also, have within their ranks, leaders committed to fixing these problems. Back in the 1990s when Newt Gingrich and his allies were pushing for reform, there were no such leaders clamoring for change in the House’s then-majority Democratic caucus.
Nor do the Democrats today have an energetic group putting forward new ideas as had the COS in the 1980s and 1990s. Today’s vote for Majority Leader will show whether House Republicans are committed to the reform agenda which brought them to power now over a decade ago or whether they have become, like the Democrats for the better part of their tenure in the majority “the party of incumbency and big government.”
The great difference between 2006 and 1994 is that the party accused of corruption is also the party which includes members with ideas for and the energy to reform. Today, House Republicans will have a choice that Democrats did not have twelve years ago. They can choose to stay with a smug status quo or opt for dynamic new leadership.
Last week, Glenn Reynolds wrote that “If a reformist candidate — Shadegg, or maybe Boehner — wins, there’s hope for the GOP.” I agree. It would be a sign that House Republicans recognize that leadership means more than holding the reins of power. It also means being an engine for ideas, innovation and improvement.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
UPDATE: In a great — and more comprehensive post on the House Majority Leader race (than this one) — John Henke raises a point similar to my own:
This time, however, the potential beneficiary of electoral dissatisfaction is not quite so clear. The Democratic Party has not produced an agenda similar to the Contract with America, and, in fact, cannot do so. They neither want to reduce taxes or limit government – they only promise to rule more efficiently. That platform may beat a wayward and corrupt Republican party, but it doesn’t capture the voter’s imaginations in quite the same way that the Contract with America did in 1994.