Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Getting Out

The number of Republicans leaving Congress is getting up there; so far 16 of them have decided to take their ball and go home. One sums up his reasons.

“I don’t like being in the minority,” said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), who was first elected in the 1994 GOP landslide and will retire after this term. “It’s not that much fun, and the prospects for the future don’t look that good.”

The wave of retirements compounds the challenge facing the GOP in the 2008 congressional election, because the party is significantly trailing Democrats in fundraising. That means Republicans will apparently be defending more House and Senate seats with less money, and they will be fighting battles in places that otherwise might have been secure.

What is more, many of the Republicans choosing to retire are older, more pragmatic lawmakers, such as Rep. Ralph Regula of Ohio; moderates like Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio and Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia; and mavericks like Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. These departures reflect the generational and ideological changes that have pushed the Republican contingent in Congress steadily to the right over the last decade.

In other words, now that they are realizing that the bullying tactics of the wingnuts are starting to turn off the voters, these people are getting tired of having to defend the indefensible, and making up lame excuses for the war, Katrina, the deficit, and the shredding of the Constitution can be exhausting. And in true bully form, when the going gets tough, they run away.

Frankly, I don’t feel a whole lot of sympathy for these people. They knew what they were getting in to when they ran for office, especially those who came in with the alleged “Republican Revolution” and then went along with Karl Rove’s idea of a “permanent Republican majority.” But always being on the attack and paradoxically playing the victim of meanie liberals is hard work, and now that they’re on the short end of the stick, it’s not that much fun any more. Well, boo hoo. That’s what you get for being pompous, arrogant and overbearing when you were in the majority. What goes around and all that.

David Brooks profiles one such retiree, Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio, about the last race she ran in 2006.

Her Ohio House race had been one of the toughest in the entire country. And when I brought it up, I expected her to talk about the vicious ads that had been run against her.

Instead, she talked about the ads that she had put on the air against her opponent.

“I was appalled by what I had to do,” she said. In close races, the national parties send teams of professionals to take over campaigns, and the candidates who resist their efforts generally lose.

When Pryce spoke about the direct-mail letters that went out under her name, she did so with a look of disgust. She said that her friends kept coming to her to complain about the TV ads she was running against her opponent. Finally, her own mother told her she was ashamed of the ads.

The truth is, Pryce’s opponents did worse. But it was her own ads that she kept dwelling on, and as she spoke, I could see that she’d been fighting the war that the best politicians fight — the war within herself to preserve her own humanity.

Politics, as you know, is a tainted profession. Professional politicians cannot serve their country if they do not win their races, and to do that they must grapple with a vast array of forces that try to remold and destroy who they are.

Excuse my skepticism, but making excuses for running a vicious campaign because the “opponents did worse” is bullshit. (And I take that assertion with a huge grain of salt; I doubt that the voters returned Ms. Pryce to office because of sympathy for a bare-knuckled campaign mounted by the Democrats.) And the piteous claim that she didn’t like the letters being sent out in her name could have been resolved with little more than one simple order to the campaign people: Stop it. There are politicians who refuse to run negative ads, and they do win. So all these crocodile tears about politics being a “tainted profession,” especially coming from the Republicans who have perfected dirty tricks and character assassination over the last thirty years, is a little much… but hardly a surprise. The one thing they have always been masters at it is the bully’s lament of “It all started when he hit me back.”