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The GOP is in trouble, and so be it

October 15, 2006 2:14 am

WILL NOVEMBER 7, 2006, be a date that lives in infamy for the Republican Party? American voters appear poised this Election Day to vent their ill will against the hapless party in power.

Observers think there's a good chance Democrats will pick up at least the 15 seats they need to wrest control of the House of Representatives. The Republicans, of course, have no one but themselves to blame, and the suggestion that Democrats are "politicizing" recent news is absurd. These events are conveniently self-politicizing.

But there should be serious thought among people of my "ilk," to borrow some fan-mail terminology, that a wholesale removal of Republicans from Congress may not be in anyone's best interest.

With all 435 seats in the House up for election, plus 35 seats in the Senate--combined with an endless stream of bad news for the GOP and some of its candidates--these midterm elections have Democrats drooling with anticipation.

The party that took over the House in 1994, the White House in 2000, and the Senate in 2002, has since followed a systematic path of self-destruction:

The war. Having underestimated the enemy's perseverance and ingenuity from the beginning, the Bush administration is now crippled by its inability to articulate a rational strategy. The "war on terror," thanks to its mismanagement, may have made the world an angrier and more dangerous place for Americans and other Westerners.

The call for a diplomatic exit strategy has grown deafening. The war has left President Bush leading an ailing administration whose accomplishments are few and forgotten, and whose party is about to be spanked by the American electorate.

The Foley factor. This scandal gives new meaning to the term "member of Congress." At least President Clinton's immorality involved a woman who was old enough to make her own decisions. Neither can be said for Rep. Mark Foley, the Florida Republican whose friendliness with youthful male pages has apparently been known by the Republican leadership for at least six years.

It's no wonder that a scandal bottled up for so long would explode in the party's face at such an inopportune time. This may be the final straw for Americans still clinging to some Great Red Hope.

Hurricane Katrina. A disaster such as this allows a president to roll up his sleeves, demand progress, and feel a region's pain. President Bush rolled up his sleeves for the cameras, but that was it.

Much is being reported now about New Orleans' heroic comeback. But those who were ignored in the days after the hurricane's landfall are ongoing victims of neglect today.

Discretionary spending and the budget. President Bush is actually good at something, and that's overspending. Overall discretionary outlays rose 2.3 percent annually under President Clinton, compared with 9.7 percent annually under President Bush, according to figures from the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Bush's continuing policy of enormous tax breaks in the midst of his war on terrorism, hurricane recovery, and Sept. 11 have combined to create a federal deficit of $250 billion. It has actually been reduced thanks to Americans' addiction to spending money--including, like the government, money they don't have.

Gasoline prices. Everyone likes retreating gas prices, but if they are a result of a concerted effort to affect the outcome of the election, whether Bush is a player or not, the backlash will add to the GOP's problems.

Everything else. Despite holding the White House and both chambers of Congress, the Republicans have pursued bone-headed strategies and divisive initiatives.

The president's foolish allegiance to the religious right has help sink his approval ratings to historic lows. He wastes time on issues like flag-burning and same-sex marriage, rejects the promise of stem-cell research, and fumbles away reform for health care, Social Security, energy policy, and environmental protection.

So it won't be surprising if this un-Midas touch, which empowers Republican Washington to ruin everything within reach, brings unprecedented changes to the partisan composition of Congress. But just as in any election, each race should be viewed on a case-by-case basis by a district's voters.

There are Democratic candidates who are running against entrenched Republicans merely because the party needed a body to sacrifice. Other Democrats have stepped up purely to capitalize on the GOP's misfortunes. These are not noble causes.

Republicans who have sought bipartisan cooperation, who have questioned the president's policies, and who have kept themselves above the unfolding ugliness shouldn't be tossed aside. There is a need for institutional knowledge and experience to transfer from Congress to Congress, as well as some partisan balance.

Those who have damaged their own credibility, such as Sen. George Allen, should be judged on their own merits. Few of us would care to be judged by the indiscretions of our youth, but questioning whether a politician any longer reflects his constituency is certainly fair play.

Those who have marched in lock step with this president put their own fortitude in doubt. Our own First District Rep. Jo Ann Davis is one of those, but with her opponents failing to gain traction and her rapt attention to district issues, she is keeping her seat safe.

I don't always agree with the will of the American electorate, but I know that those Americans who do vote do so thoughtfully. Voters should, and I am confident will, throw a lot of the bums out. But just being a Republican in Congress doesn't necessarily make you a bum. It only seems that way.

Richard Amrhine is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.





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