So it has come to this: A group of Senate Republicans has proposed $100 rebates to low-income people to ease their “pain at the gas pump.” They also are entertaining the possibility of higher taxes on oil industry profits, as if government does a better job of spending money than private industry. Have they forgotten the last time government imposed a “windfall profits tax” from 1980 to ’88? Oil production fell (but demand grew) as “big oil” had less incentive to explore. A history of this bad idea can be found on The Tax History Project Web page www.taxhistory.org.
A recent Wall Street Journal editorial called the $100 rebate proposal “destined for the pandering hall of fame.” When Democrats want to hand out checks, Republicans call it “welfare” and they claim to oppose it on principle. What should it be called when Republicans do it, hypocrisy?
GOP impotence in the midst of fuel price hikes may be the final proof that this is a party that has run out of gas. Democrats aren’t any better and should they regain a congressional majority this fall, it won’t be long before they again indulge in the same pandering, unethical behavior and content-free politics that has exposed Republican ineptness.
Where is any sign of real leadership? President Bush has made some personnel changes at the White House, but does he intend to say what needs to be said and do what should be done? Why is it so difficult to tell people that if they want to see gas prices go down, they should reduce consumption? Some estimates I’ve seen indicate that cutting consumption by as little as 3 percent could lower prices. It’s called supply and demand, but too many of us have been making too many demands, not only on petroleum, but also on politicians.
Because contemporary culture is so self-focused, are Republicans afraid to tell people to do the equivalent of eating their vegetables? Republicans appear content to let people keep eating sugar by indulging them in the view that everyone is entitled to more, bigger and better in their pursuit of comfort and pleasure. Who will stand up and say, “Take control of your own lives and stop looking to Washington to solve everything”?
Republicans have forgotten why they wanted power. It was to reduce the size and cost of government and return power (and money) to individuals. Now they mimic the Democrats, focusing on their political careers and ever-expanding government.
Some Republicans think they can squeeze by this fall with scare tactics, such as reminding voters of the liberals who would gain leadership positions if they lose their current majority. Democrats are better at scaring voters than Republicans. Traditional GOP voters have been known to stay home to punish Republicans for cross-dressing as Democrats. A visionary and optimistic agenda would be a far better strategy. It also has the virtue of being more likely to succeed.
People want to vote affirmatively for their leaders. That is why the GOP’s 1994 “Contract with America” was a politically brilliant document. Republicans put their intentions in writing and a majority of voters believed them enough to toss out Democrats who had been running the House for 40 years.
In this fall’s election, can Republicans go to voters with a positive agenda and solid record of accomplishment? From the volatile subject of illegal immigration and lawbreakers demanding “rights” they do not have, to spending on wasteful and unnecessary projects, to a deficit and national debt that would almost shame Democrats (but doesn’t shame Republicans), a majority of congressional Republicans are giving voters little reason to vote for them.
How could a party go from a visionary like Ronald Reagan who changed the world, not to mention restoring American optimism, to the tunnel vision of his illegitimate offspring who seem to care less about change than perpetuating themselves in office? They aren’t even doing a good job of that as the fall election results may show, unless somebody or something quickly lights a fire under them. Never has the derogatory phrase, “Republican in name only,” applied to so many who have done so little for so few.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist and author.