Back in 2006, Democrats were able to recapture the congressional majorities they had lost in 1994 by putting themselves forward as the “not-Republicans.” In 2008, they built on those majorities and their presidential nominee captured 53% of the popular vote, the highest percentage a non-incumbent Democrat had received in over three-quarters of a century by campaigning against an unpopular Republican incumbent and offering vague promises of “hope” and “change.”
Yet, this year, as Chris Christie’s campaign in New Jersey shows, while people are beginning to sour on the Democrats, particularly the incumbent Democratic Governor he seeks to replace, many are still not ready to pull the lever for the Republican.
In 2009 (and possibly 2010), it may not be enough to simply be the “not-Democratic” party (as it was in ’06 and ’08 to be the “not-Republican” party). Perhaps, the GOP’s difficulty stems from the freshness of people’s memories of the last time the Republicans controlled all the levers of political power in our nation’s capital. From 2003-2007, successive Republican congresses did little to control domestic spending, even with a Republican in the White House.
But, in ’06 and ’08, memories of the last Democratic Congress has long since faded (save for political junkies). Few could remember what had sparked the 1994 Republican rout.
Perhaps many who did believed the Democrats had since learned their lesson and had changed their wayward (read: spendthrift) ways. On the campaign trail, they, particularly their party’s 2008 presidential nominee, certainly sounded like it.
Now that people can see that Democrats have returned to their free-spending ways, Republicans need show that we’ve learned from out recent setbacks. Perhaps a GOP leaders need acknowledge that they lost their majorities, in large measure, because legislators failed to rein in federal domestic spending.
In that acknowledgement, they could remind Americans of the words of the document which, back in 1994, helped Republicans regain congressional majorities for the first time in forty years, the Contract with America:
After nearly two years of the most promise-breaking,waffling and spin-addicted White House in history, the public has grown cynical of promises to provide middle class tax relief, reform welfare, restore accountability to congress and cut spending. And after 40 years of one party control of the House, they no longer feel they have the power to hold their elected representatives accountable. The Contract will allow people to hold us accountable, measure our performance and, if we break the contract. throw us out.
This year or next, Republicans could say that after twelve years in power, we turned away from the spirit of the Contract and you threw us out. We know that should we again fail to hold the line of spending, fail to make the federal government more accountable, you will again throw us out as you did in 2006.
And with that reminder, Republicans would put forward the new contract, telling Americans what the party is for.
In a post which inspired this one, John Steele Gordon suggests what the contents of that new contract would be:
What should Republicans be for? How about running on a platform that thoroughly reforms the budget process in specific ways; abolishes earmarks; takes the power to cook the federal books away from politicians and forces honest accounting; limits increases in federal salaries and benefits until they are, once again, in line with the private sector; and ends gerrymandering?
Right now, while polls show growing discontent with the incumbent Administration and with Congress, they only show slight movement to the GOP. If party leaders show that Republicans do indeed stand for something, we could make that trickle a gusher.