November 10, 2006
The worst fears of the GOP were realized on the national level Tuesday night, with the loss of both the House of Representatives and the Senate to Democratic control. The sweeping victory saw several vulnerable Republican incumbents -- including Senators Rick Santorum, George Allen, Jim Talent, and Lincoln Chaffee -- picked off, as well as several open seats going to the Democrats. Furthermore, not one Democratic incumbent was defeated (although the final count on GA-12 will not be in until Monday) -- a resounding statement against the status quo, and against the present leadership of this country.
Despite attempts to spin the victory as a repudiation of the Republicans as a party, and of conservatism as an ideology, Tuesday's result was, in actuality, neither.
The fact is, the victory experienced by national Democrats was a direct response by America to a governing party which had, by and large, forsaken its principles and abandoned those beliefs which propelled it to power in the first place.
When the Republicans took over Congress in 1994, they did so with -- and as a result of -- a vision of limited government, entitlement reform, tax relief, and a balanced federal budget. Over the twelve years since, the GOP lost sight of those goals and beliefs, forgot the reasons that they had been elected, and strayed from those principles. Massive spending bills, chock full of earmarks, passed the Congress one after another, record deficits and debt were reached, and the largest new entitlement program in nearly half a century was created in Medicare Part D.
Furthermore, the GOP lost its moral compass during its time in control of Congress, giving in to the siren call of money, media approval, and base desires -- the tangible benefits of power -- in the varying forms of lobbyist deals, the page scandal, and the overall compromise of principles.
These shortfalls can be corrected, and it is possible that a stint in the minority could be just the jumpstart that the GOP needs to once again remember why it was selected by the American people to govern in the first place. Steps in the right direction have already been taken; for example, when the 110th Congress convenes, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert will no longer be in a leadership position. One of many whose love for the office and the position resulted in answering to the wrong master -- that of power, rather than that of the people -- Hastert betrayed the conservative movement, along with the American peoples' trust, when he chose to defend the indefensible, in the form of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-La.) bribe-taking, and former Rep. Mark Foley's (R-Fla.) inappropriate behavior with House pages, as well as on other issues. As a result, he is one of many symbols of the loss of direction which contributed to the Republican majority's downfall -- and can now be one of the many symbols of the GOPs getting back to basics, and returning to its core principles.
Between the adoption of pro-big-government policy and public dissatisfaction with the Iraq war, the Republican Party was likely destined for a national defeat in this election. The fact that it did not happen earlier in President Bush's tenure was a testament to the GOP, as every election of his presidency fought against the precedent of opposition party victory. Whether or not a Republican Congress which had remained faithful to its conservative principles would have suffered a similar defeat will never be known; however, the national results showed that, whatever the upside, America was fed up with the status quo.
In Georgia, Tuesday's results showed just the opposite sentiment. The resounding victory won by Governor Perdue, coupled with the victory of Democratic incumbents like Tommy Irvin, Jim Marshall, and Thurbert Baker, showed that Georgians were very satisfied with the status quo. While Republicans managed to take races in which the incumbent was not running for reelection - such as the election of Casey Cagle as Lt. Governor and Karen Handel as Secretary of State -- the victory by Democratic incumbents showed that, to Georgia voters, Party affiliation was secondary in importance -- but that, given a choice and an open seat, the GOP is still the party of choice in the Peach state.
The victory in Georgia demonstrated that governing as advertised can be successful; the loss nationally demonstrated that running as conservatives, and governing as moderates of liberals, is not. Likewise, Georgia's successful candidates were benefited by their decision to run on achievements and realistic proposals; on the national level, the GOP -- like the Democratic Party of 2002 and 2004 -- was doomed by the fact that their platform consisted simply of the claim that the "other side is worse."
On both levels, the voters have spoken loudly and clearly. Georgians believe that the state is largely headed in the right direction and, while not willing to rock the boat by throwing Democrats out of office, they are trusting Republicans with more and more responsibility.
On the national level, America has taken the GOP by the collar and given it a good shake, while simultaneously giving the Democratic Party an opportunity to show what it can do in the majority. Where things go from here will depend on whether or not the Republican Party heeds the message it has so clearly been sent this week by the American people: return to the principles you once claimed to stand for, or face another 40 years in the wilderness.
Jeff Emanuel, a Special Operations military veteran who served in Iraq, is a senior at the University of Georgia.Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on 111006