The GOP minority and Obama


Today’s topic: Congressional GOP leaders, especially Rep. John Boehner, have cast themselves as the Democrats’ opposition. Do Republicans risk further marginalization by bucking the president’s call to abandon partisanship, or will being more vocal about their disagreements with Democrats and the president re-energize their party? Could congressional Democrats be an even bigger obstacle for a president who has moved more toward the center since his election? Previously, Estrich and Hewitt debated the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison, whether Obama should investigate the Bush administration and the president’s stance on abortion and stem cell research.

The choice for Republicans: work with the president or be irrelevant
Point: Susan Estrich

There aren’t too many choices for Congress with a new president and the economy on the brink. Democrats have, basically, one: Support the president. All for one and one for all; they sink or swim together. If there is a sense in just under two years that the economy is heading in the right direction and that progress has been made, then Democrats will return to Washington in record numbers. If there isn’t, they won’t. Being able to say they didn’t give the president what he wanted won’t help them if times are tough.


Republicans, technically, have more choices. They can play a constructive role in the recovery effort, understanding that if it succeeds, they may individually hold onto their seats but they’ll still be stuck in the small offices with the small staffs; and that if the recovery fails, they’ll have a harder time saying it’s all the Democrats’ fault, although that is precisely what they’ll say.

Or they can do what they did Wednesday: Just say no. Be irrelevant. Lose.

One of my friends, describing what it was like to be a Democrat in the days after Newt Gingrich took over in 1995, said it reminded him of being stuck on the worst team in the league in high school. You get up every day, get suited up (literally), meet and assign roles and make your moves and give your speeches -- and then the vote comes and you lose. The most certain aspect of the day was that final moment: defeat. Then you go home, sleep for a few hours, get up the next day and do it again. There’s no such thing as an upset. You just keep losing. A lot of Gingrich-era Democrats started deciding that maybe there was life beyond the House. And in those days, at least they had a Democratic president and a possibility of a veto.

So that’s the choice. Republicans can work with the new president, which is what the country wants them to do. They can make some changes here and there on the margin, win concessions and compromise. Or they can just say no and head for the showers, turning themselves into the 21st century nabobs of negativism who bear the burden of having gotten us into this mess, politically speaking. It’s probably an OK strategy for winning ratings on cable and talk radio, where even a very small percentage of the country can give you what looks like a significant audience. But it leaves you rooting for economic collapse, not recovery, and on the other side of the hopes and dreams of the people you’re supposed to represent.

Doom-and-gloom Republicans. What will it be, Hugh?

Susan Estrich, national campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis in 1987-88, is the Robert Kingsley professor of law and political science at USC. She is a legal and political analyst for Fox News and a syndicated columnist.

House Republicans were right to reject out-of-control spending
Counterpoint: Hugh Hewitt

“A majority is better than the best repartee,” proclaimed Benjamin Disraeli, and that is to me the summary of all party political strategy in a democracy. You want majorities, but hopefully you want them for the purpose of accomplishing great things, not feathering nests or building personal empires.

For the time being the GOP in Congress only has repartee, but it needs to use it to build a new majority. There is no sense or purpose in me-tooing the Democrats. There is incredible purpose in doing what the House GOP did Wednesday: standing united, though defeated, against a gigantic porkapalooza that will not help in any appreciable way to reignite private-sector growth. Rep. John Boehner did more in the past 72 hours to rekindle conservative thinking on domestic policy than any House leader had done since Gingrich was in opposition to Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1994.

Bravo. More please. In the Senate as well.

When they had the majority from 1995 through the end of 2006, Republicans often talked a good game but when it came to spending on non-defense and non-homeland security items, they often did not practice what they had so long preached. Paybacks are hell, and that’s what walloped the Republicans in 2006 and 2008, a payback from their base and the independents who judged them a party of privilege and perks.

Now they are doing penance, and so is the country as we experiment with a new and far more expensive version of Carterism that is unfolding before our eyes. The country already knows or will soon rediscover that the sort of massive spending rolling out right now simply cannot sustain economic growth or launch innovation. The Republicans will also soon rediscover that every president from Jimmy Carter forward has tried to engage Iran’s radical mullahs and it has never brought other than misfortune and more terrorism. As President Obama launches out on a four-year revival of the Carter Show, it is the GOP’s job to say again and again when it is appropriate, “This will not work because it has never worked.” If the new president is a genuine centrist and comes forward with proposals and policies that in fact conform to the long experience of successful government in free societies, the GOP leadership should be prepared to support him.

But if this nightmare of a non-stimulus bill is a reliable indication of the next 48 months, the GOP has got to keep its numbers together and vocal, just as it did Wednesday. Their stay in the “smaller offices” that you describe, Susan, will be far less long, and the country’s stagnation more quickly remedied, if they do.

Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University and host of a nationally syndicated radio show aired in Southern California on KRLA-AM (870) and in New York on WNYM-AM (970). His two most recent books are “The War Against the West” and “GOP 5.0: Republican Renewal Under President Obama.”