Thursday, November 13, 2008

PROVOCATIONS: The Marion Barry Republicans

House Republicans are Marion Barry Republicans.

Barry, the former Washington, D.C. mayor, infamously became a national punchline for smoking crack with a prostitute on a video surveillance camera in 1990. After leaving office in disgrace and serving six months in prison, he was easily returned to office in 1994 with 56% of the vote.

With no questions asked. His record was irrelevant.

Barry's transgressions didn't matter to the Washingtonians who voted for him a mere four years after his conviction. And they were once again disappointed by his feckless performance in office.

Marion Barry's supporters were skilled in the art of denial and willful ignorance. Today, they serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Only their party is the Republican party.

Meet the Marion Barry Republicans.

A Marion Barry Republican doesn't consider an elected official's failed record. A Marion Barry Republican blindly supports personality, superficial appeals to ideas and claims to political rehabilitation. A Marion Barry Republican accepts futility and dismisses losing.

A Marion Barry Republican is a John Boehner Republican.

Even after the embarrassing loss of over 20 House seats, Congressman Boehner is slated to serve as the Republican Minority Leader throughout the next Congress. It's a sad, and pathetic, political reality: House Republicans refuse to overthrow their leader and begin rebuilding the party while staring in the face of two consecutive humiliating defeats.

Mr. Boehner has now presided over a stunning decline in House Republican fortunes. Even after losing the majority in 2006 under his leadership, he survived a challenge.

A major reason why morale collapsed throughout the Republican base during the party's 12 years of Congressional control was because of the explosion in federal spending. Mr. Boehner, as chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee from 2001 to 2006, helped achieve this sad reality.

Among conservative aides to House Members, and I served as one, it became a running joke to read Congressman Boehner's press office emails to Capitol Hill staffers. He was constantly highlighting the "record increases" in education spending for the intrusive No Child Left Behind law and other questionable education initiatives.

Mr. Boehner has been tattered by the sleazy Mark Foley text messaging fiasco, his ill-advised decision to place ethically compromised California Congressman Ken Calvert on the Appropriations Committee and a long association with those noted good-government reformers, K Street lobbyists.

But despite that past, does losing matter?

Before Election Day, 2006 House Republicans held 232 seats. Today, they hold 175. Congressman Boehner must be accountable for the catastrophic 50-seat loss in the House. Right? Wrong. He won't have to worry.

Even with the status quo Boehner record, House Republicans still don't understand what must be done. They're in a stumbling haze.

Immediately after the results were evident conservative Congressman Eric Cantor announced that he would seek to replace House Republican Whip Roy Blunt, who is not running for re-election as the second highest-ranking House Republican.

Big deal.

Mr. Cantor is not exactly a profile in courage. He's going after the easier prize in competing for Mr. Blunt's job. Even if he wins, Mr. Cantor will serve under Mr. Boehner, who has been in Washington, D.C. for so long there are no limited government, pro-freedom ideas left for him to embrace without the hypocrisy of his career and voting record emerging.

If elected, what's Mr. Cantor going to claim? That he has Mr. Boehner's "ear" on issues, and constantly reassure his conservative colleagues for the next two years?

Unfortunately, Congressman Boehner became a classic establishment Republican in the Bob Michel mode, the former minority leader who proved incapable of leading House Republicans out of the political wilderness. Only until Newt Gingrich was elected Minority Whip in 1989, by one vote, did Republicans begin to lay the groundwork for the Contract with America that elevated them to the majority.

Where is the Gingrich-level revolutionary challenge to Mr. Boehner? No Member of the House Republican Conference has the skills and energy to mount one. They're exhausted. They do not possess the courage, core principles and, yes, character to lead a coup against Mr. Boehner and his yes-man lieutenants.

House Republicans have been defeated in a hail of arrogance and ideological sell-outs, and continue to flounder. And in the process they destroyed the once-enthusiastic conservative base that elected them.

Mr. Boehner should have resigned immediately after Election Day, and called for a new direction for House Republicans. It would have been the honorable thing to do. He didn't resign, of course, and somewhere Marion Barry is proud of his decision.