There is an apocryphal story that says circuses train elephants by keeping one of their legs chained to a stake driven into the ground. After a few weeks of being unable to escape, the chain can be removed from the stake and the elephant will not run away, conditioned to believe that she is still fettered.
So it seems to be with the Republican leadership in Congress.
Voters sent a resounding message in the November midterm elections. At both the federal and state level, they put record numbers of Republicans into office. Following on the heels on Benghazi, the ongoing Obamacare fiasco (further inflamed by Jonathan Gruber's insults), the IRS scandal, record numbers of Americans out of work, hundreds of thousands of immigrants pouring unimpeded across the border, and staggering levels of federal debt, President Obama and his fellow Democrats were handed one embarrassing defeat after another.
And yet the GOP, taking over control of Congress this week, sounds as timid and conciliatory as ever. House Speaker John Boehner (re-elected Tuesday despite stronger-than-expected opposition) was responsible for passage of the $1.1T "Cromnibus" spending bill, earning a congratulatory call from President Obama himself. For six years, we've been told that nothing was able to be done because "we didn't have control of the Senate." Now we have control of the Senate, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's first admonition to Republicans is "Don't be scary." According to the Washington Post, McConnell says he has told Republicans to "restrain themselves," urging caution in order to avoid terrifying the electorate, and thus paving the way for a Republican president in 2016. At which point, presumably, some other obstacle will prevent the passage of a conservative agenda.
You can be assured that if Democrats had just swept the midterm elections, they wouldn't hesitate to sink their teeth into an opposition president's policies. So why are the Republicans so tentative?
In a word, press.
Apparently, it's not enough to defeat the Democrats. Because the Democrats — at least those in elected office — aren't really the ones Republicans fear. Despite ample proof of media bias, statistics that show that Fox News is the runaway cable TV news favorite year after year (while liberal news shows, newspapers and magazines hemorrhage viewers and readers), Republicans continue to kowtow to the liberal press.
Consider, for example, Obama's executive action granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. Whatever one thinks about the wisdom of Congress granting amnesty to existing immigrants without enhanced border security, this executive overreach is a deeply dangerous precedent, and ought to be opposed on that basis alone. But Republicans are more worried about how the issue will play with Hispanics — which is just another way of saying, "How will the media spin this?"
It's been said ad nauseum , but if the GOP is still waiting for the press to carry their water for them, they may as well pack up and go home now. The media — overwhelmingly Democrats — will almost always cast Republican policies in an unfavorable light, no matter how much truth twisting or fact ignoring it takes, and no matter how "unscary" Republicans try to be.
Republicans now have the power to bring important legislation to the floor, to confine a power-hungry president to the constitutional limits of his office and to roll back the despised Obamacare, among other initiatives voters sent them to Washington to do.
This is no time to be timid. The GOP must realize that political power in this day and age comes with the ability to go over the media's collective heads and take their message directly to the American public. This requires vision, certainly. It requires a certain fearlessness that comes with the courage of one's convictions.
It also means coming to the realization that the only fetters they have are those they impose on themselves.