Jim Vandehei is a serious reporter, but this story of his today in Politico was downright ludicrous.
He breathlessly describes Ron Johnson, the Republican candidate for Senate in Wisconsin running against incumbent Russ Feingold, as one of a bold new breed:
Johnson talks the talk of the tea party and also talks of going to Washington as less a lawmaker, more a messenger. He argues with conviction that Obama represents nothing less than a threat to turn America into a “socialist, European-style” state, and audiences nod along, the judgment sounding neither rabid nor harsh — even in Wisconsin, a state that fell hard for Obama.
His message and circumstance are almost identical to the other tea party candidates: All believe powerfully that government has grown too large, too fast and, unless changed, America may be on verge of losing its greatness.
The thing is, that’s the very message conservative Republicans have been urging on us since 1980. And for much of the past three decades, they’ve controlled most of government. Republican presidents from 1981-1993, and 2001-2009. Republican control of the Senate from 1981 to 1987, and both houses of Congress from 1995-2007.
And government — and in particular Washington D.C. — has prospered under their care. The Beltway and the Dulles Access Road and Interstate 395 are festooned with office parks that house the “Government Relations” offices, and even corporate headquarters feasting on the largesse of the Defense Department of the Department of Homeland Security. New gleaming office buildings now line Massachusetts Avenue — once a dead zone — between 14th Street and the Capitol. Buildings full of lobbyists for oil and gas companies, insurance companies, banks and others dedicated to weakening or removing laws that help the people but stand in the way of their profits.
For three decades, wave after wave of conservative Republicans like Ron Johnson have come to Washington vowing to change it. People like Vin Weber, who built their political careers railing against Washington but then found it could be quite a charming town and a very nice place to make a living indeed.
So, next time someone like Vandehei decides to write a piece about the Tea Party or Ron Johnson, I wish he’d remember earlier partisans like Weber. And perhaps, in light of that history, and the three decades of empirical evidence we now have about the gap between what conservative Republicans say and what they do, ask some tougher questions.
What programs — specifically — do they propose to cut? Which of their constituents will need to make due with reduced Social Security or Medicare? How much spending in the Defense Department will they cut, and where? What agricultural and mining subsidies will they remove? What explicit steps will they take to rid the Capital of lobbyists? Which of the nearly 1 million people working as contractors — many with duplicative roles, and lavish private-sector salaries — in our sprawling “Homeland Security” and intelligence bureaucracy will they fire?
The vision of people like Vin Weber has largely become national policy the last thirty years. Taxes are at historical lows. Markets have been de-regulated and set free. We’ve returned to an unfettered free market system that folks like Ayn Rand could only dream of. And we’ve gotten this.
The truth is, Weber and Reagan and Gingrich did change Washington. And rich people, corporations Washingtonians have done very well by their rule.
But history be damned, I’m sure this new breed of Tea Party activists will change all that forever, and put government back on the side of the people.