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Jewish World Review / Nov. 17, 1998 /28 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas Republicans drift while conservatives float

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten -- In a "post-election'' cruise sponsored by National Review magazine, economic and social conservatives agree that Republicans had no message. In cards as well as politics, something beats nothing. Republicans had nothing to offer voters at the national level and so they were either beaten (losing five House seats) or won nothing (a status quo Senate). The consensus here is that, without a message that resonates with voters, a repeat of the "Seinfeld'' (it's about nothing) 1998 election will return Republicans to the familiar minority-party position.

"Republicans did nothing they promised to do,'' was the main complaint. No tax cuts, no reduced spending, no cut in government agencies or Cabinet departments. They didn't even try -- and they disgusted many by trying to spin their own supporters into believing they did.

From economists Stephen Moore and Larry Kudlow, to the social conservatism of the Christian Coalition's Randy Tate and political consultant Ralph Reed, the feeling is that the 106th Congress under House Speaker Bob Livingston and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott will do even less. No one expressed support for Livingston as anything more than a transitional figure. They only hope that Minority Leader Dick Gephardt is not the one transitioned to. Moore noted that 60 percent of those who think things have been going well voted for Democrats in the Nov. 3 election. Republicans earned no credit, he says, because they didn't claim any. "We'll get wiped out in 2000 if we don't change that perception,'' he said.

"Character matters,'' said Larry Kudlow, ``but the GOP doesn't have any. It is weak in both character and courage, and that's why it is losing.'' Libertarian, social and economic conservatives lamented the failure of the GOP leadership to hold hearings on spending priorities, instead rushing through a budget agreement no one had read. "It was bad enough,'' noted Moore, ``that $1.2 billion more is being pumped into the Department of Education for 100,000 new teachers, but three to four days before the election, the Republican National Committee issued a press release claiming that hiring new teachers with federal money was a Republican idea.''

Everyone hates polling, said Kudlow, because "polling doesn't tell you what the best remedies or policies are.'' He said a number of pollsters told the candidates that people didn't want tax cuts. "That was largely their view, not the people's view,'' he said. He suggested that polling and marketing are no substitute for sound data.

There is great fear among these conservative intellectuals that President Clinton will seize more issues from Republicans, possibly the privatization of Social Security and an across-the-board tax cut, to pave the way for Al Gore's presidential run.

During a panel on "What Happened to the Surplus,'' National Review president Dusty Rhodes listed a few of the pork projects tucked away in the budget measure, including hundreds of thousands of dollars for grasshopper research in Alaska and Vidalia onion research in Georgia. He then suggested a Jesse Ventura approach to the surplus: give it back. "Why don't elected leaders cut our tax rates?'' he asked. And then he answered: "Laziness at best and ignorance at worst. (Members of Congress) don't know about economics, and they aren't interested in knowing.''

Kudlow said the GOP has no tax policy and he suggested five reasons for cutting taxes: it promotes economic freedom and choice; it promotes growth, as it did when taxes were cut in the '20s, '60s and '80s; it limits government by "starving the beast''; it promotes a cultural spirit of personal responsibility and self-government, limiting the need for government; it affects everybody.

On social issues, Ralph Reed said religious conservatives will have to learn a strategy of "radical incrementalism.'' The Founders, he said, wanted big changes to go through a long process. The question, though, is whether that process will come from the top through politics and government, or must it first be reflected from moral conservatives and churches showing the way?

This is not a happy group, and since many of them influence large numbers of people, their message spells trouble for Republicans unless the phony revolution of 1994 is replaced by an internal party revolution well before 2000.


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5/13/98: John Ashcroft: another Jimmy Carter?
5/8/98: Terms of dismemberment
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3/26/98: Moralist Gary Hart
3/23/98: CNN's century of (liberal) women
3/17/98: Dandy Dan
3/15/98: An imposed 'settlement' settles nothing
3/13/98: David Brock's Turnabout

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Inc.