Political parties exist for a reason, and it’s a pretty simple one: to implement the policies their voters prefer. It’s a pretty straightforward deal. The voters pick the candidates that best embody their policy preferences, and the candidate, if elected, implements those policies. It works most of the time.
But not always. Parties sometimes go astray for an election cycle or two. Generally, they are pulled back into line by the voters. But, once in a great while, a political party simply fails. The most recent failure of a major political party in the United States was that of the Whigs in the 1850s, when the issue of slavery so divided the northern and southern factions of the party that its voters were simply unable to continue as a unified political entity. Pro-slavery elements absconded to the Democratic Party, while the anti-slavery elements created the Republican Party.*
It is interesting to note this history when viewed against the current state of the Republican Party. What seems to be developing in the GOP is a similar fissure over the size and scope of government. It seems not to be so much a debate among the rank and file, however, as it is between the grass roots and the party establishment.
When I speak of the GOP establishment, I will define it, for convenience, as those members of the GOP whose incomes and/or professional lives are derived primarily from participation in electoral politics, either directly, as a candidate or staffer, or indirectly through journalism, consulting, policy study, or party activism.
There is an increasing sense that the party establishment is more interested in the process of politics, bipartisanism, and policy than they are about the principles behind the party’s ostensible ideology.
The result seems to be a long succession of candidates for whom the principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility seem to have taken a back seat to "getting things done" and "working with the Democrats" to "solve problems". The perception seems to have taken hold that this has resulted in accepting to some extent the collectivist ideological premises of Democrats, though in a milder form.
Bob Dole, famously criticized as "the tax collector for the welfare state", was generally thought of as a political moderate. George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism was essentially an embrace of big government for socially conservative ends, rather than limited government, and ultimately, through No Child left behind and Medicare Part D, an embrace of big government for political ends. John McCain was notorious for his "maverick" ways, which came to be generally defined as siding with the Democrats on domestic issues. The GOP seems incapable of producing identifiably limited government conservatives as national candidates.
During this same time, the GOP electorate has become increasingly interested in restraining the size and scope of government, reducing regulations, reducing taxes, and balancing the Federal budget.
Indeed, it’s important to remember that the TEA Party movement began not as a reaction to Mr. Obama’s election, but rather in opposition the Bush Administration’s push for TARP and the bailouts, all of which President Obama embraced and expanded.
This increasing divide between the GOP electorate has led to some embarrassing moments, such as the candidacies of Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell in opposition to the GOP establishment, but also some successes, such as the candidacies of Marco Rubio and Allen West. Both, however, often came in opposition to the wishes of the GOP establishment. Some results of this tension are not yet fully known, such as the ultimate outcome of Sarah Palin’s position as a sort of spokesperson and power-broker for a large percentage of the GOP electorate, at the same time her reputation among the GOP is establishment is, shall we say, mixed.
So, we come to the 2012 election, and the primary candidates for the GOP presidential nomination are Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Both men are identifiably part of the GOP establishment. Both are flawed candidates from the point of view of limited-government conservatives. Frankly, neither of them would have a chance at winning an election against Mr. Obama in a normal political environment. Their one hope for beating Mr. Obama in the fall is that this election year is decidedly not normal.
From a policy point of view, Mr. Romney simply isn’t a conservative. He is merely somewhat more conservative than the average Democrat, which is to say he is noticeably more liberal than the GOP rank and file. His record gives every indication of willingness to "work with" Democrats, which can be best understood as code for doing nothing that Democrats strongly oppose. In a normal election, this would translate into a deep sense of ennui among GOP voters that would probably doom his chance of victory.
Mr. Gingrich has a more credible argument for supporting and implementing conservative policies than Mr. Romney in many ways. He is also one of the most actively disliked politicians in the United States. He seems utterly incapable of seeing himself in anything other than world-historical terms, and the result is a noticeably overweening ego. He is the modern embodiment of General George McClellan, Abraham Lincoln’s opponent in the 1864 election, who once remarked about himself, "I know that I can save this country, and that I alone can." The instinctive dislike of Mr. Gingrich by the general electorate would normally doom his candidacy in an election as well.
Mr. Romney carries Romneycare like a millstone around his neck, yet does so gladly, and refuses to repudiate it. One of his advisors, former MN senator Norm Coleman, said yesterday that Obamacare would not be repealed. Though the campaign quickly came out in opposition to that position, Mr. Romney’s continued defense of the Massachusetts health care plan remains troubling to GOP voters. He speaks about conservative ideals, but his entire political history is one of compromise with them. This may have been a necessity in a deep blue state like Massachusetts, but it translates poorly to a far more conservative national GOP electorate.
Mr. Gingrich managed to make himself so unpopular as Speaker, even with his fellow Republicans in the House, that he was driven out of Washington like some sort of poison troll. Moreover, as recently as last March on Meet the Press, he supported the individual mandate for health insurance, the key controversy over Obamacare. Mr. Gingrich still defends his support of Medicare Part D. Mr. Gingrich was also one of the primary movers behind the K Street project, which tied the Republican Party deeply with lobbyists, pushed the party into supporting lobbyist pet projects, and ended with the fall of Jack Abramoff, as well as some leading GOP politicians like Tom DeLay. His recent criticisms of Bain Capital, and the concept of private equity firms in general, are also troubling, coming, as they do, from a progressive viewpoint.
In short both men have troubling histories that raise serious questions about their ability to govern as conservatives. I would suggest that if the next president is a Republican, and does not do everything in his power to repeal Obamacare, the Republicans will be finished as a national political party. The same holds true of they fail to restrain federal spending or the growth of the national debt. That would be the short path to the GOP going the way of the Whigs.
Irrespective of presidential politics, however, the GOP is still on the path to decline under their current leadership. If, over the next few election cycles, the GOP establishment cannot bring themselves to actively push candidates of distinctly limited government views, and if they do not actively push for smaller government, less spending, and less debt in Congress, the GOP rank and file will abandon the party and create a replacement for it.
Barry Goldwater’s motto in 1964 was, "A choice, not an echo". Sadly, the GOP establishment seems most comfortable offering a moderately less radical echo of the Democrats. The GOP electorate, however, increasingly wants a choice. A party that is incapable of promoting candidates with a distinctly fiscally conservative, limited government ideology is also incapable of providing that choice.
That is a path to extinction.
*Interestingly, the southern Whigs imparted a more conservative, business-friendly element into southern Democrats, the vestiges of which still remain, and one result of which was the general electoral success by southern Democrats for the Presidency, opposed to Northerners. Of the Democratic presidents in the 20th century, Wilson, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton were all distinctly southerners, while only Roosevelt and Kennedy were northerners. Truman is the odd man out, being from Missouri, though it certainly was at least as much southern as it was northern.
Ok, just being flip, but I’ve never really thought that much of the caucus process and still don’t. All this excitement, work and rhetoric over approximately 225,000 votes. Yes I understand the possibility of winnowing the field (think Newt will finally take the hint?).
So Romney won – by 8 votes out of about 225,000 total. That’s not as surprising to me, frankly, than who came in second. Very disappointing to the Paulbots, I’m sure. But Rick Santorum? Seriously?
And will Huntsman, Bachman, and Perry drop out or hang on through New Hampshire? After all it’s not that long till NH and again, Iowa is a caucus state. I don’t see any of the three doing significantly better there than Iowa, but still they may give it a shot.
Cain was beaten by “no preference”. The only “candidate” missing, as far as I’m concerned, was “none of the above”. My guess is NOTA had a shot at at least 2nd or 3rd, and who knows, with that field, might of pulled out a win.
Perhaps not openly, but certainly more than just by implication.
Here’s the problem as stated in the lede of the NY Times editorial:
Buried in the relatively positive numbers contained in the November jobs report was some very bad news for those who work in the public sector. There were 20,000 government workers laid off last month, by far the largest drop for any sector of the economy, mostly from states, counties and cities.
Oh, my. So, it would seem that city, county and state governments are finally dealing with the reality of their fiscal condition and, unfortunately, doing what must be done to meet the new reality of limited budgets, right? It’s about time. Many of us pointed out that the “stimulus” only put off reality, it didn’t supplant it. At sometime in the near future (like now) those government entities were going to have to deal with the reality of decreased tax revenues and shrunken budgets.
Well, not according to the NY Times which manages to stretch this into something completely different. You see, it is a grand plan being pushed by the racist GOP in case you were wondering:
That’s one reason the black unemployment rate went up last month, to 15.5 percent from 15.1. The effect is severe, destabilizing black neighborhoods and making it harder for young people to replicate their parents’ climb up the economic ladder. “The reliance on these jobs has provided African-Americans a path upward,” said Robert Zieger, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Florida. “But it is also a vulnerability.”
Many Republicans, however, don’t regard government jobs as actual jobs, and are eager to see them disappear. Republican governors around the Midwest have aggressively tried to break the power of public unions while slashing their work forces, and Congressional Republicans have proposed paying for a payroll tax cut by reducing federal employment rolls by 10 percent through attrition. That’s 200,000 jobs, many of which would be filled by blacks and Hispanics and others who tend to vote Democratic, and thus are considered politically superfluous.
Wow … in a world of groundless claims, that’s perhaps one of the most groundless I’ve seen. The case isn’t even cleverly built. I mean how do you like the claim “many Republicans … don’t regard government jobs as actual jobs”. Really? Since when? As I understand “many Republicans” they support a small and limited government but see this one as an outsized behemoth. I agree with them. What they talk about is cutting the size of government. And the intrusiveness of government. That necessarily means cutting jobs. But they don’t support cutting the size of government because it will make those that are “considered politically superfluous” unemployed. That’s just race baiting nonsense. They support it because that’s the conservative ideology based in a foundational concept of this nation.
By the way, unlike the NY Times, most people don’t consider the government to be a “jobs program”. Government is a necessary evil not a method of “getting ahead”. It is there to serve, not provide “a path upward” (although there is nothing wrong with those who’ve been given the opportunity to take advantage of it). It is there to be just as big as it needs to be and not one bit bigger. But who or what color those who work in government are is irrelevant … even to the GOP.
Finally, what you most likely won’t hear is the NY Times whining about are any cuts in defense which will see troop strength radically reduced. Those are good government job cuts too. And many blacks and Hispanics have chosen that field as “a path upward” too. But those are jobs they’re fine with being cut. After all, if they cut more of those they can probably fund the 230,000 new bureaucrats wanted by the EPA to enforce it’s regulations.
How lame is the “racist” argument today? Well, here’s your latest example. I’m sure your no more surprised at the source than I am.
Very interesting survey concerning ObamaCare. Kaiser Family Foundation does a monthly tracking poll. Their October poll yielded some surprise results. Note that this comes as we have been learning more and more about the details of the ObamaCare law:
- After remaining roughly evenly split for most of the last year and a half, this month’s tracking poll found more of the public expressing negative views towards the law. In October, about half (51%) say they have an unfavorable view of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), while 34 percent have a favorable view, a low point in Kaiser polls since the law was passed. While Democrats continue to be substantially more supportive of the law than independents or Republicans, the change in favorability this month was driven by waning enthusiasm for the law among Democrats, among whom the share with a favorable view dropped from nearly two-thirds in September to just over half (52%) in October.
- Americans are more than twice as likely this month to say the law won’t make much difference for them and their families as they are to say they’ll be better off under the law. Forty-four percent say health reform won’t make much difference to them personally, up from 34 percent in September. Meanwhile 18 percent say they and their families will be better off, down from 27 percent last month. (The share who thinks they’ll be worse off personally held steady at roughly three in ten, where it has been since the law passed in 2010.) Here, too, changes in views among Democrats helped shape the overall change.
That’s a bit of a sea-change on the Democratic side.
It’s also significant for another reason. It makes the case for repeal stronger. While Republicans have always been against it, that’s been fairly easy for Democrats to wave off. Indies are a little harder to wave off. But when other Democrats are less supportive of the law, to the point that fewer and fewer have an favorable view of the law, well that makes it increasingly harder for Democrats to justify keeping it.
Something is causing their support to erode and the GOP needs to figure out what it is and use it to make their case.
As election time nears, this is an issue they can use as a secondary one to the economy. It was unpopular when it passed. It has remained mostly unpopular and, with this sort of poll, we see the unpopularity expanding into Democratic ranks. It appears it is something the GOP could get majority consensus on.
I have a pretty good idea, but first, here’s the gist of the demand:
President Obama pressured Republicans on Wednesday to accept higher taxes as part of any plan to pare down the federal deficit, bluntly telling lawmakers that they “need to do their job” and strike a deal before the United States risks defaulting on its debt.
Declaring that an agreement is not possible without painful steps on both sides, Mr. Obama said that his party had already accepted the need for substantial spending cuts in programs it had long championed, and that Republicans must agree to end tax breaks for oil and gas companies, hedge funds and other corporate interests.
So how should the Republicans answer this demand?
Well, as I mentioned in my post about why the GOP should stand firm on declining to raise taxes, the problem isn’t tax revenue. It is, quite simply, spending.
What the Democrats and Obama will promise you is they’d use any increased revenue brought in by increased taxes to reduce the deficit and debt. But that is never how it really works and we know that. It’s like giving an alcoholic another shot – he’s going to drink it. Revenue isn’t the problem. Spending is the problem.
So what the GOP must do is say, “Mr. President, when the government has proven that it can indeed cut spending and cut it drastically, and it has done everything it can conceivably do in that regard, if there is a revenue problem at the bottom of it, then we can discuss tax increases. But until such a time that it is proven – through action, you know actual cuts – that the government has done all it can in the area of spending cuts, there’s nothing further to discuss in terms of tax increases.”
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Pay attention to this because it is important:
The portion of Americans who say they believe the U.S. is on the wrong track is higher than it was at any point during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, when unemployment peaked at 10.8 percent after the 1981-82 recession, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll. The ABC poll showed the wrong-track number during Reagan’s first term peaking at 57 percent in October 1982. The Bloomberg poll shows 66 percent of Americans think the U.S. is going in the wrong direction now.
This is the number I continue to talk about because to me it is the truest indication of the mood of the country. The mood is obviously critical to the re-election, and wrong track polling has consistently indicated the way previous elections are going to go. There is a threshold that portends bad news for the incumbent, and we’re well past that. The question is, will it stay there? The answer seems to be, by all indications and forecasts, yes.
As the public grasps for solutions, the Republican Party is breaking through in the message war on the budget and economy. A majority of Americans say job growth would best be revived with prescriptions favored by the party: cuts in government spending and taxes, the Bloomberg Poll shows. Even 40 percent of Democrats share that view.
This should be something every GOP politician should have tattooed on his or her inner eyelid to help them focus. Concentrate on the message about the economy – it’s a winner. Wander off into wedge issues and you give your opponent an opening and a way to distract the public. If you do that you deserve to lose.
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Apparently, according to a Rasmussen poll, a majority think a government shutdown would be a good thing if it led to deeper cuts in spending.
I’m not sure how seriously to take this in light of other polls which say Americans want cuts but not to any number of our most expensive entitlements.
That said, let’s look at the numbers in the Rasmussen report. Again, as far as I’m concerned, the key demographic here is “independents”. They’re the swing vote in any national election.
Fifty-four percent (54%) of Democrats say avoiding a government shutdown is more important than deeper spending cuts. Seventy-six percent (76%) of Republicans – and 67% of voters not affiliated with either of the major parties – disagree.
That works out to 57% of the total saying that deeper spending cuts are more important than avoiding a government shutdown.
To most that would mean the GOP is on the right track pushing deeper cuts.
Oh, and one little note here, just in passing – all of this could have been avoided if the Democratic Congress had done its job last year and passed a budget. As it turns out, I’m glad they didn’t because just like the health care bill, I’m sure we’d have been stuck with an expensive monstrosity. But what’s happening now about “government shutdown” is a direct result of Congressional Democrats not doing their job.
That said, let’s look at another interpretation of the numbers from Rasmussen. This one shows the divide between “we the people” and “they the politicians”:
There’s a similar divide between Political Class and Mainstream voters. Fifty-two percent (52%) of the Political Class say avoiding a shutdown is more important than deeper spending cuts. Sixty-five percent (65%) of Mainstream voters put more emphasis on spending cuts.
Seventy-six percent (76%) of Political Class voters say it is better to avoid a shutdown by authorizing spending at a level most Democrats will agree to. Sixty-six percent (66%) of those in the Mainstream would rather see a shutdown until deeper spending cuts can be agreed on.
Most of those in the Political Class (52%) see a shutdown as bad for the economy, but just 38% of Mainstream voters agree.
So … what is it going to be GOP? Stick with your guns or cave?
BTW, using the Rand Paul “we spend $5 billion a day in government” standard, a shut down sounds like a money saving opportunity doesn’t it. Call each day a defacto spending cut. 10 days, $50 billion.
I like it.
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As mentioned in the previous posts, the Blue Dogs in Congress aren’t feeling the love from minority leader (don’t you love that title) Nancy Pelosi and the crew. And that may have a beneficial effect for the GOP.
Blue dogs didn’t feel the love of voters last November either, with about half of them going down to defeat after they supported the health care law. Message sent, message received. Sooo … they’re taking a look at the Republican budget and some are saying (surprise, surprise) it might be something they can support:
Blue Dog Democrats might support a plan from House Republicans to cut $32 billion in discretionary spending this year, a spokesman for the fiscally conservative bloc said Monday.
Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) said the Blue Dogs are waiting to see the details of the proposed GOP cuts before taking a position. The draft legislation from the House Appropriations Committee is due on Thursday.
Now, of course, the GOP doesn’t need a single Democrat in the House to pass the budget. Just as the Democrats didn’t need a single Republican to pass health care. But having a “bi-partisan” budget with significant enough Democratic support to call it that (and not snicker) would put more pressure on Democrats elsewhere.
But the comments from Ross and other Blue Dogs suggest at least some of the coalition’s members are willing to defect from their party and vote for the plan despite the vocal opposition of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Last week Pelosi rejected the GOP plan and said that $32 billion in proposed cuts “will come at the expense of economic growth and American jobs.”
“We must put our fiscal house in order, beginning with an aggressive attack on waste, fraud and abuse; but we must do so without jeopardizing targeted investments that are helping the private sector grow and hire new workers,” Pelosi said.
Got to love it — “waste, fraud and abuse”, the fall back of those who don’t intend to cut a dime while still talking about cutting spending. No one ever does anything about “waste, fraud and abuse” except talk about it. No one. And If Ms. Pelosi is so fired up about aggressively attacking it, why wasn’t that a priority when she was Speaker?
However the GOP doesn’t get off Scott free either – what happened to the $100 billion in cuts promised prior to the election? Why $32 billion (one of the questions I plan on asking Paul Ryan if I get the chance)?
Anyway, back to the point at hand – minority leader Pelosi is simply reaping a bit of what she’s sown:
The Blue Dog openness to the GOP comes amid strained relations with Pelosi. On Monday, Blue Dog leader Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), who challenged Pelosi for the job of Democratic leader in the 112th Congress, said the coalition has been shut out by the leader’s office.
So, no surprise – the Blue Dogs aren’t liberal enough for the leadership (yes that’s today’s theme). In fact, they recently met with Bill Clinton to plot a bit of strategy:
The 26-member Blue Dog Coalition met Monday in New York with former President Clinton to discuss ways to move a centrist political agenda through a divided Congress. Clinton advised the group on ways to handle the situation and discussed budget, housing and energy policy, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) said.
“One of the reasons we invited President Clinton was he had to work with Republicans after the ’94 election,” Ross said.
Now you know if that coalition is plotting a “move to a centrist political agenda”, it along with just about everyone else have decided that the “main stream” Democrats are way to the left of them. And they may find more leverage with the opposing party by being the designated “bi-partisan” validator with some “compromise” from the GOP to include some of their ideas.
And Nancy and the gang? Out in the cold gobbling on about “waste, fraud and abuse”. About the only real example of waste, fraud and abuse I’ve seen is the minority leader herself. A waste of time, a fraud as a representative of the people and an abuse of power all rolled up into one liberal politician. Can we do away with her? It will certainly save taxpayers money.
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I assume none of these names will come as a particular surprise to anyone. 8 GOP Senators joined Democrats in voting down a ban on earmarks for the next two-years. They were:
Sens. Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), James Inhofe (Okla.), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Richard Shelby (Ala.) voted against an amendment to food-safety legislation that would have enacted a two-year ban on the spending items. Retiring Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) and defeated Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah) also voted against it.
Of the 8, only one – Dick Lugar – faces reelection in 2012.
As has been said by many, the ban on earmarks is mostly symbolic since the amount of funds earmarked each year are a veritable drop in the ocean compared to the rest of the federal budget. But the symbolism of members of the Senate foregoing a spending tradition dear to incumbents to emphasize that government in all areas must cut back on its spending would have been a powerful one indeed. Instead
Instead, the usual suspects decided that midnight drop-in earmarks unvoted upon or debated, are absolutely critical to the functioning of the federal government and funding projects in their state.
Of course, somewhere in the next few years, all 8 of them will “go on the record” about wasteful spending. They’ll also claim we must cut spending in all areas of government.
But when given the opportunity to put their words into action – well, there are the results.
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It is easy to be cynical about politics today, especially for long-time observers. Years of watching fingers carefully placed in the political wind to determine its direction has given those watching the process a decided and well earned reason for cynicism.
But that has to be leavened somewhat with the understanding of how this political process works, why the incentives it offers is one of the main reasons it is broken, and then applaud actions which – no matter how seemingly small or insignificant they are – work toward changing those incentives in a meaningful way.
It has been said by many that “earmarks” are both trivial and insignificant when it comes to the budget deficit. They’re barely 1% of the budget. We’re told they’re no big thing in world of trillion dollar deficits.
Yes they are significant. For many reasons. Most obvious among them is they’re part of that incentive system that encourages profligacy and waste. As one wag pointed out, they’re the Congressional “gateway drug” for profligacy and waste on a much grander scale.
Secondly while it is easy to waive away “1%” of the budget as “insignificant”, you have to ask, “is it really?” Certainly in terms relative to a 2.8 trillion dollar budget, a few billion dollars doesn’t seem like much. But it is.
We know – all of us, even the left – that we must cut spending. Period. There’s no argument about that. The argument is where we cut. And how much. Cutting 1% of spending wrapped up in earmarks should be a “no-brainer”. It is a good first step. If you’re going to say to the country, “we’ve all got to cut back”, what better way – speaking of leadership – is there to make the point than to cut out spending that is advantageous to you politically.
That’s certainly the case with earmarks and has been for decades. It is the Congressional method of using tax dollars to help ensure a high return of incumbents on election day. So the symbolism involved in cutting them out is important. Especially, as I noted, when the country is going to be asked to take cuts in things which they find advantageous to themselves.
That all brings me to Sen. Mitch McConnell essentially reversing himself and signing on to the earmark ban. I’m cautiously optimistic that the GOP leadership is actually beginning to get the message that I think was transmitted loud and clear on November 2nd. Said McConnell:
“What I’ve concluded is that on the issue of congressional earmarks, as the leader of my party in the Senate, I have to lead first by example,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.”
Good. What I’m not going to do is look this particular gift horse in the mouth and try to determine whether it is a cynical political ploy or genuine. I’m simply going to take it at face value and put a plus next to earmark reform. I’ll take McConnell at his word and demand that he now be consistent in applying the same received message to areas of spending that will indeed make a huge difference. Or said another way, I appreciate the sentiment and the symbolism of the earmark ban, but that doesn’t satisfy me or anyone else. It just indicates some seriousness and willingness to do what is necessary to rein in the government’s spending. While appreciated, it in no way means anything much more than that.
McConnell acknowledges the “wishes of the American people”. Those wishes were clearly expressed as a much smaller, much less costly and intrusive federal government. Banning earmarks is as good a place to start as any. But the serious work of cutting government down to size must continue immediately after the ban is in effect. The electoral gods will have no mercy on the GOP in 2012 if the American people don’t see a concerted effort by the party toward that goal.
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