"The key to Republican credibility - on transparency and many other issues - is actual, unilateral leadership," wrote Jon Henke a couple of weeks ago. He's correct, but I'll add that a major component of leadership is walking the walk before talking the talk.
Right now, millions of Americans are hopping mad about Obama's stimulus packages and for the first time in years the right is "Going Galt," as Michelle Malkin calls it.
Talk radio hosts are suddenly spending their time using libertarian and fiscally conservative rhetoric, but for the last eight years they've only provided token resistance (at best) to bloated Republican budgets. As late as today, I heard a local Republican talk show host defending Bush's spending record to a totally disbelieving caller.
Senator McCain talks a great talk about earmarks, but he (along with Governor Palin) also recently called the bailout of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae "necessary." At the other side of this spectrum, Senator Shelby has spoken out against the stimulus package, but just took second place in the U.S. Senate pork contest.
Regarding Alabama's other Republican Senator, Jeff Wartman writes:
Jeff Sessions, appearing on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, attempted to explain his opposition to the Obama stimulus plan by stating that, “I don’t think we need to saddle future generations with 1.2 trillion of debt.”
He’s right. It’s wrong to saddle future generations with huge amounts of debt.
Yet it was Senator Jeff Sessions who was giving a rubber stamp to the Bush spending bills that added over 5 trillion dollars to the national debt. Where was Senator Sessions’ outrage when this runway spending was occuring under the Great Spender, George W. Bush?
"The 'Rushification' of the GOP is the natural and inevitable result of the fact that those who are supposed to provide leadership – Republican elected officials and party officers – are doing little to bring the party back," said conservative icon Richard Viguerie yesterday in a press release.
He claims that the Republican Party can't get any traction "because the party leadership is as confused and clueless as the Obama administration."
A recent WSJ/NBC poll illustrates the public perception issue with Republican officials:
The poll had bad news for the Republican opposition. By a margin of more than 2-1, Americans trust the Democratic Party over the Republicans to get the country out of the recession. Views of the GOP are near an all-time low. And more than half of all adults say that Republicans in Congress have opposed Mr. Obama's proposals more to gain political advantage, compared with 30% who say Republicans have done so because they are standing up for their principles.
Why should voters believe Republicans are currently standing up for fiscal principles after taking an eight year vacation from them?
Republicans can regain the trust of the voting public. They aren't going to do it by compromising core fiscal values, though. It will require an extraordinary level of consistency on the part of GOP leaders with respect to economic issues in order to atone for recent sins.
Should Republican leaders return to their initial fiscal values, it will take years to regain the trust of the American voter. Perhaps some gains can be made in the 2010 elections; Alabama voters reelected Governor Riley by the same 2-1 margin that they defeated his major tax increase bill three years prior. Alternately, it could take much longer -- it took 16 years for the Goldwater legacy to turn into a Reagan victory.
Republican leadership once punished Arizona Representative Jeff Flake for being fiscally responsible.
"I was told that I was taken off the Judiciary Committee because of 'bad behavior,'" Flake told The Christian Science Monitor. "I guess to be a team player you only challenge Democratic earmarks. I don't think that's right."
I'll suggest that Republican leaders should not only apologize to Flake, but use him (and good folks like SC Governor Mark Sanford) as a voice for the party. At the very least, Flake and Sanford could teach Conservatism 101 to a GOP leadership which has forgotten what small government is all about.