Move Over, MoveOn, Here Come the Republicans

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As Judson Berger points out here on, MoveOn is about to be MovedOver. Why? Because the grassroots on the right side--conservatives, libertarians, pro-lifers, home-schoolers, Flat Taxers, Fair Taxers, and a host of other causers and crusaders--are starting to burn with white-hot political energy.

Plenty of credit goes to the organizers of the nationwide network of "tea parties" and other expressions of conservative passion. And plenty of ironic "credit" goes to the Obama administration, for stirring up the folks with its lefty policy agenda.

Consider: when the 103rd Congress convened in January 1993, the Republicans had just 43 Senators and 176 Representatives. The previous year, George H. W. Bush had been defeated for re-election, ending a 12-year stretch of Republican control of the White House. During the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and the elder Bush, conservatives made many gains for themselves and for America--defeating communism, restoring economic growth, appointing great Supreme Court judges such as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas--but during that time, a curious thing happened: the Republican grassroots grew complacent, or sometimes even demoralized. And that's why, during the 80s, Republican strength in Congress ebbed.

But then came Bill Clinton. And Hillary Clinton. And Al Gore. And Janet Reno, Webb Hubbell, George Stephanopoulos, Rahm Emanuel, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Lani Guinier, and the whole rest of that motley crew of Clintonians. Pushing Hillarycare, raising taxes, jacking up spending, nominating liberal judges. And oh, by the way, a scandal or two. Or three.

Needless to say, in response to this heavy dose of liberalism, conservatives woke up in the early 90s. Newt Gingrich, then the #2 Republican on the House side, provided the intellectual spearhead, and Haley Barbour was a brilliant chairman of the Republican National Committee, but the Republican "surge" was nationwide.

The point was that all of a sudden, with no Republican in the White House, the Loyal Opposition, in Congress and around the country, suddenly sprang back to life. It had to. And along the way, then-new technologies, such as talk radio, came into the forefront.

The result of all this new pro-GOP energy, of course, was the 1994 midterm elections, when the Republicans gained 50 House seats, and 11 Senate seats, gaining control of both chambers for the first time since 1954. And those numbers were further augmented by party-switchers; so when the 104th Congress opened for business--Speaker of the House Gingrich, plus Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole--on January 3, 1995, the GOP had 54 Senators and 230 Representatives.

Now that's grassroots mobilization!

By the same token, of course, during most of the 90s, it was now the turn of Democratic grassroots to grow complacent and/or dispirited.

Thus we see the pattern: When you lose the White House, you gain your grassroots energy. When you win the White House, you lose your grassroots energy.

It's not always exactly like this, of course. Sometimes a powerful president can keep up the enthusiasm, even as he occupies the White House. A case in point is Franklin D. Roosevelt, who kept Democrats happy and energetic for the first five years or so of the New Deal, back in the 30s.

And sometimes a big event happens that wakes 'em up. During the Clinton years, the Democratic grassroots would not really reawaken until the impeachment fight of 1998--that's when began, using the then-new technology of the Internet.

But even then, a resurgent left could not get Al Gore elected president in 2000; the big Democratic comeback came after the Democrats lost he White House, during the Bush 43 era.

So now it's the turn of Republicans to get moving. We'll see how they do. Republicans should hope that they can find new leaders possessing the talent of Gingrich and Barbour. (Or maybe a big comeback for Gingrich and Barbour?)

But as we have seen, historical cycles have a logic all their own. Great historical forces have a way of producing great leaders, and great movements.

And so if history is any guide, the GOP will be back in the majority soon enough.