Let’s face it. It’s tough being in the minority. Any ideas they have for improving the lives of Americans, or improving the performance of government, or improving the economy are ignored by the majority. “I won,” President Obama told Republicans a few days after he took office as they sought to have some input into the developing stimulus package.
And that’s the way it’s been since then. During the debate over Obamacare, the president and Democrats continuously told the lie that his plan had to be passed because the Republicans had no ideas of their own. Not only were there a dozen substitute health insurance reform bills offered by various Republicans, there was the only real attempt at bipartisan reform in the Wyden-Bennett Act. From there, GOP complaints about elements in the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill were brushed aside as were Republican ideas on taxes, the budget, and the deficit.
In short, any attempt at implementing Republican ideas has been thoroughly and completely scuttled by the Democrats. They might have argued that these are bad ideas, or that we disagree with these ideas, but that wasn’t the way it went. Instead, Democrats substituted childish name-calling and bomb-throwing, accusing Republicans of being “terrorists, or “extremists,” or just plain evil. Rarely, if ever, was there a debate on the merits of GOP proposals. In fact, Democrats refused to debate anything at all.
Given these circumstances, is it a surprise that Republicans find themselves opposing just about everything President Obama and the Democrats put forward? You can hardly expect Republicans to abandon their principles and vote for noxious legislation like Obamacare, financial regulatory reform, and immigration reform. The guts of all those bills are antithetical to conservatives, and the GOP could no more support those bills than liberals could have supported a totally free market approach to health insurance reform.
But lost in the genuine and principled — for the most part — opposition to President Obama’s policies is the notion that by proving to the voter what they are against, what they are for gets lost in the shuffle.
Tied up in the policy of the matter are the political calculations that go into winning an election. Karen Tumulty at the Washington Post summarizes the GOP’s dilemma:
A quiet argument is boiling within the party over whether it should offer voters an agenda that shows what Republicans would accomplish if they are returned to power or whether it should simply ride an anti-Democratic tide into the November election.
Some, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), worry that proposing a set of detailed policy alternatives is taking an unnecessary risk when so much else is going the right way for Republicans. Putting forward an agenda can inflame differences within the party and give opponents targets to shoot.
That in part was what sank Cantor, who was faulted by the tea party as too accommodating.
The Virginia Republican drew especially intense fire for advocating a GOP version of the Dream Act, which would enable some illegal immigrants who entered the country as children to qualify for in-state college tuition rates.
Standing in opposition may be a good electoral strategy at a moment when the president and his party are politically weak, and when most of the key battles on the political map are being fought in conservative territory.
There also is the reality that President Obama will remain in the White House for the next two years, using his veto power to make sure that Republicans cannot keep whatever promises they make.
But a no-on-everything stance provides little to begin laying a premise for the presidential election of 2016.