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GOP: Dance With The One Who Brung You

Republicans are rightfully celebrating their recent successes in the midterm elections, recapturing the House and making major gains in the Senate. But before House GOP leader John Boehner starts measuring the curtains for the speaker’s office, he and his fellow Republicans would do well to remember the old proverb popularized by legendary University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal: “Dance with the one who brung you.”

In this case, that means: Don’t forget who put you in office and why — namely, the independent-minded Tea Party voters.

Hence, the Republicans should take to heart three key lessons:

1) Americans don’t want “ObamaLite”

The 2010 vote was a powerful message from Americans rejecting the socialist policies of President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid — including the bailouts, the out-of-control federal spending, the higher taxes, and the nationalized health care scheme.

Voters elected Republicans to halt and reverse these policies — not compromise to pass watered-down versions of those same bad ideas.

Some Republicans like Congressman Mike Pence appear to understand this:

[T]here will be no compromise on stopping runaway spending, deficits and debt. There will be no compromise on repealing ObamaCare. There will be no compromise on stopping Democrats from growing government and raising taxes.

In contrast, others like Congressman Darrell Issa appear willing to compromise:

It’s pretty clear the American people expect us to use the existing gridlock to create compromise and advance their agenda. … They want us to come together [with the administration] after we agree to disagree.

Whichever philosophy takes hold amongst the Republicans will determine whether they succeed — or fail.

Americans don’t expect the impossible from the GOP. We understand that Obama still wields the presidential veto. But we do expect the Republicans to fight as hard as they can for principles of free markets, fiscal responsibility, and limited government.

For example, with respect to ObamaCare, we understand that the Republicans may not have enough votes to immediately repeal it. But a GOP-controlled Congress can “defund” it (i.e., not allocate money to implement the program) until they gain a sufficient majority in 2012 to fully repeal it.

For Congressional Republicans, preventing President Obama from inflicting yet more bad programs on this country might be the best (and most important) thing they can do until they have sufficient power to pass their own positive alternatives.

One of the first things aspiring doctors learn in medical school is the principle of “Primum non nocere” or “First, do no harm.” In other words, sometimes doing nothing is better than making things worse. This is just as true in politics as it is in medicine.

2) Don’t mistake this as a mandate to pursue a divisive “social conservative” agenda.

The Republicans’ electoral rebound has been driven by millions of independent voters like the Colorado small businessman Ron Vaughn, who told the New York Times, “I want the Democrats out of my pocket and Republicans out of my bedroom.”

As the New York Times article noted, swing states like Colorado are split such that “Democrats, Republicans and independents each account for about one-third of registered voters.” If Republicans wish to retain power after 2010, they will have to respect the wishes of these independents.

Similarly, the recurrent theme in the countless grassroots Tea Party rallies across the country has been for fiscal responsibility and limited government — not social conservative issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

The Democrats mistook their electoral success in 2008 as a mandate to pursue a socialistic domestic agenda. They overreached and are now paying the political price. The Republicans should not make the same mistake and assume that their 2010 electoral success reflects a mandate to pursue a divisive social conservative agenda. Instead, they should focus on the issues important to the Tea Party voters who elected them into office — namely, fiscal responsibility and limited government.

3) Respect the Constitution

The newly elected (or re-elected) congressmen and senators must remember that rightful authority flows from the U.S. Constitution. In a few weeks, they will all swear an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Nothing enraged Tea Party protestors more than seeing elected officials betray this solemn promise, whether it was Congressman Phil Hare (D-IL) defending his ObamaCare vote by saying, “I don’t worry about the Constitution” or Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA) saying, “The federal government … can do most anything in this country.”

And although some pundits like Dahlia Lithwick think it’s “weird” for legislators to consider whether a proposed bill is constitutional, that is indeed one of their primary responsibilities.

More importantly, Republicans need to respect the underlying principle of the Constitution — namely, protecting individual rights. A proper government protects our rights by protecting us from criminals who steal, murder, rape, etc., as well as from foreign aggressors. But it should otherwise leave honest people alone to live peacefully. In particular, government should protect our right to enjoy the fruits of our labors, not rob us to pay for “stimulus packages” or “universal health care.”

Thomas Jefferson understood this well when he said:

A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.

In conclusion, I’d like to again congratulate the Republicans on their electoral victory. They have been given a chance to block (and possibly reverse) many of the bad policies of President Obama. They have been given a chance to move America in the right direction. And they’ve been given a chance to earn the trust of the American people.

I hope the Republicans repay that trust by showing that they will indeed “dance with the one who brung them” and listening to the Tea Party voters who restored them to power.