Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Blowing It In the Foruth Quarter

I recently had a couple of posts (here and here) about GOP governance at the federal level. In one of these posts I noted that some conservatives are willing to toss Dennis Hastert (R-IL) as Speaker of the House, not because of the Foley scandal, but because of his demonstrably inept leadership during his tenure as speaker. I noted in the other post (as I have stated many times elsewhere) that some conservatives have had it with the GOP’s runaway spending. Two recent articles prove my points.

Conservative commentator Larry Kudlow waxes positively evangelical in this article where he calls for the speaker to step down and cites Hastert for failing to do so a week ago. He bluntly shows that it’s not the Foley scandal that bothers him (although it is a convenient tool), but all of the GOP’s real failures (i.e. influence peddling, fiscal irresponsibility, failure to deal with Social Security, expanding Medicare, anti-immigration policies, etc.) Kudlow seems to be blind to the cost of changing captains at this point in the campaign, or perhaps he’s simply willing to accept that cost.

Economist Irwin Stelzer sounds downright angry in this article where he cites the GOP’s domestic spending habits for painting us into a corner on foreign policy. While lauding the Bush tax cuts for improving both the economy and government revenue, Stelzer fumes that the GOP’s “unwillingness to rein in spending so that the boom in tax receipts can be used to provide support for American diplomacy … has made it impossible for America to have an effective foreign policy.” He argues that the President’s (and the Congress’) fiscal policy led directly to North Korea going nuclear, our ineffectiveness in Iraq and Afghanistan, our fecklessness with Iran, and our inability to properly fight the war on terror in general.

Both of these writers make some valid points. Both also come across as something akin to angry sports fans whose team is blowing it in the run up to the finals. Ever loyal to the team, but also wanting to be on the winning side, one wants the team captain’s head, while the other is beside himself about what he sees as shortfalls in the coach’s strategy earlier in the season. The difference is that both of these guys know that it’s a lot more than just a game. But another similarity to angry sports fans is that neither offers anything that is particularly useful at this point in the season.

Kicking Hastert out of the speaker position now, as suggested by Kudlow isn’t going to help the GOP win the election. In fact, it might make things worse for the GOP. It would set someone else up as speaker if the GOP manages to hold onto the House. But wouldn’t it be better to deal with this issue with the advantage of breathing space after the election rather than in the heat of battle before it? Perhaps Kudlow is afraid that Hastert will somehow be able to keep his position should the GOP eek out a win. I’m just some nobody in northern Utah, but I think that come January Hastert is finished as speaker whether the GOP keeps the House or not. The GOP would be better to worry about replacing Hastert after November 7 when they know whether the position is theirs or not.

Stelzer and other economists have been unhappy about GOP spending habits ever since Bush’s first budget proposal in 2001, but few forecast in any significant way what Stelzer is grousing about now. In fact, some climbed on board the Medicare expansion bandwagon, and even Stelzer has written fawningly about some of the programs he now criticizes. It’s just that he now has the advantage of hindsight and the prospect of his team losing. Stelzer’s comments can be useful for future application (providing the GOP learns anything from the mess they’re now in), but his gnashing of teeth does little at this point to help his team.

It will be interesting to see what today’s angry conservatives write in the aftermath of the election. If their team loses, there will be lots of stormy articles. If their team holds on, some will gloat, but many will still rip on their home team. I think it’s clear that many conservatives expect some positive changes in the GOP regardless of how the election goes. The question is whether the politicos inside the beltway get the message.

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