Is the Republican Party's Political Strategy on the Right Track?

Article excerpt

Yes: The right wing must learn that all or nothing at all ms not a road to victory in politics.

Ordinarily, there is an easy way for majority political parties in the United States to become minority parties -- and some rightwing Republicans are working at it assiduously these days. Fortunately, for the party as a whole, President Clinton is working just as assiduously to keep that from happening. Indeed, despite the best efforts of too many Republicans, Clinton is very likely to provide the Grand Old Party with more senators, more representatives and more governors than they dared dream of as recently as three months ago.

This is because Americans who expect to vote in November seem prepared at last to put issues of character ahead of their pocketbooks, and one thing Clinton has done and is doing -- as I understand the meaning of "is" -- is give this year's Republican candidates character as an issue. Those of us who for any number of reasons like the idea of a Republican majority in Congress and a plethora of Republican governors can only say, "God bless Bill Clinton? For where else can Republican voters, in fact any voters, go this year without in effect condoning the president's words and deeds?

Unhappily, however, Clinton's sins seem not to have assuaged the complaints of the right and left wings, but primarily the right wing of the Republican Party.

In some ways this is understandable because the governing center of the party has been less than consistent in recent years in living up to its promises and commitments. But a foolish "consistency," as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "is a hobgoblin of little minds." And this especially is true in the politics of governing. The fringes of both parties often forget that in government it seldom is possible to get a whole loaf, and in a government such as ours you are sometimes lucky even to get a slice.

This doesn't mean the party's leaders or its elected officials should stop trying to live up to their promises, but it does mean they also have to be agreeable to compromise if they want to get anything done. The trouble with many in the right wing of the party -- although it also is true in the left wing -- is that they often would rather go down in flames than live to fight another day. All or nothing at all is not the road to victory m American politics.

Now it is true that the record of Republicans in the 105th Congress is nothing to brag about, but it could be worse -- and just maybe it couldn't be better. After all, political parties in the country as a whole, as well as in the Congress, are not monolithic blocs; their members do not march in lockstep.

Republicans in this Congress generally are, but certainly not entirely, conservative largely because their constituencies are not entirely conservative. As a result, you have a Republican contingent in the House that largely is pro-life but has enough pro-choice members to block much pro-life legislation, and in the Senate help sustain a veto of legislation that would have outlawed partial-birth abortion. You have a Republican majority that opposes a kind of campaign-finance reform that would limit free speech, but it is kept alive in the House of Representatives by Republicans who advocate such reform. The same is true of legislation that would limit an individual's right to smoke. On every issue of consequence -- and many of little or no consequence -- there will be a minority of Republicans who, with Democratic help, vote to block the will of the conservative majority. That is a problem that right-wing malcontents seem to prefer to deal with by walking away, or threatening to walk away, from the whole party even though that inevitably will result in returning the Democrats to majority status.

Some people at both extremes of the GOP seem never to learn. In 1964 it was the liberal wing of the party that walked away from Barry Goldwater and turned the nation over to Lyndon Johnson and Great Society socialism from which we have never recovered. …