GOP is defined by what it opposes

I remember well Election Night 1994. Republicans were taking over Congress for the first time since 1948. The Cuomos of the political world were exiting, the Santorums coming in.

A worried colleague said, "The fascists have taken over."

Then, two weeks ago, a friend compared this year’s Democratic gains to the rise of Hitler in the 1930s.

See? Unity. He who is not with me politically is a Nazi.

We can do better. There will always be those who can’t play well and get along with others, but the new loyal opposition doesn’t have to take after the old. Yes, stand on principle. Fight for beliefs. But skip the hysteria and BDS (the virus currently known as Bush Derangement Syndrome that could soon cross species and infect conservatives as Barack Derangement Syndrome).


On National Review Online last week, John J. Pitney Jr. told conservatives: "Lighten up. ... The road to political recovery does not run through High Dudgeon."

Indeed. Recovery will require changes — in leadership, ideas and attitude. Amid the wailing and gnashing of teeth, there are signs that Republicans and conservatives understand what’s needed and are ready to adapt to the new world order.

The leadership change began on Election Day. The GOP’s No. 3 man in the House, Adam Putnam, announced his resignation as conference chair at 11:52 p.m. Nov. 4. Minority Whip Roy Blunt said two days later that he wouldn’t seek re-election to his post. There are calls for Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio to go, too. Columnist Deroy Murdock included Boehner among a list of "failed leaders" who "should go warm the back benches."

Likely replacements are smart, capable lawmakers such as Eric Cantor of Virginia, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Mike Pence of Indiana and John Shadegg of Arizona.

The changes on the Senate side probably won’t be as drastic. Though Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has strongly supported the Bush administration, he’s run parliamentary rings around Harry Reid as minority leader for the last two years. But expect to hear more from South Dakota’s John Thune and John Cornyn of Texas.

Those congressional leaders will no doubt try to put forward their own agenda. They’ll be ignored for the most part, but from that will come the ideas that reshape the various factions into a unified, effective opposition party. They’ll get help from popular governors, including Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and Sarah Palin of Alaska.

It’ll also help to have an effective chairman of the Republican National Committee. One contender for that post is Maryland’s former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who runs the Republican political action committee GOPAC.

Steele spelled out the party’s problems last week in the Wall Street Journal. Voters, he wrote, "have lost any sense of confidence that the Republican Party holds the answers to their problems."


"Most Americans today see a Republican Party that defines itself by what it is against rather than what it is for. We can tell you why public schools aren’t working; but not articulate a compelling vision for how we’ll better educate children. We’re well equipped to rail against tax increases; but can’t begin to explain how we’ll help the poor. We exclude far better than we welcome."

Listen to Americans’ hopes, desires and needs, he urges, and propose actions grounded in "our faith in the power and ingenuity of the individual to build a nation through hard work, personal responsibility and self-discipline."

There is no consensus on how exactly to address those "hopes, desires and needs," but the GOP has sorted through its divisions while in the political wilderness before, as recently as 1964, 1976 and 1992. Each time, the party listened, learned its lesson, and came back stronger than before.

In the meantime, Paul Mirengoff, of the always impressive and levelheaded powerlineblog. com, offered coping tips. In a D.C. Examiner article headlined "Worry, but be happy," he wrote, "First, pray that President Obama achieves greatness in office. Our overriding concern must always be the country we love, not the success of a party or an ideology."

But when the president is wrong, he says, "it will be our duty to oppose him." In that opposition, he urges, be loyal. Patient. Persistent. Fair. Skeptical. Support conservative institutions. Don’t support those that run interference for Obama.

Above all, he says, don’t hate. Don’t obsess.

"Spend as much time as you see fit following, discussing and participating in public affairs. But don’t think about them the rest of the time. Life is full of beauty and wonder. Don’t let politics blind you to it."

Kevin Ferris is assistant editor of the editorial page of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

What To Read Next
Get Local