Time for Republicans to Get Their Ducks In a Row

By Liz PeekFinancial Columnist

Republicans need to get their ducks in a row. Unexpectedly, the political tide may turn -- perhaps positioning the Grand Old Party for a comeback in 2010. President Obama continues to be enormously popular, though his ratings are slipping, but his Democratic colleagues are emerging as the villains in the developing melodrama over irresponsible spending. The inevitable brawl over Obama's budget could open the door for Republicans. Americans may resist the grandiose plans laid out by our new president, and they surely are not happy to see the stock market collapsing further. Importantly, those first-time voters who surged to the polls to elect Obama may not be so inspired by the off-year elections in 2010.

Americans have been duped, and they know it. When President Obama took office, there was a palpable sense of wonder and excitement. This young, attractive African-American was truly a change, and he raised our hopes. But hopes for what? And what exactly are we so let down by?

For one thing, people had the idea that Obama was an excellent manager. After eight years of a clumsy White House, that alone was cause for celebration. John McCain's nomination of Sarah Palin and the stutter-step on the stimulus bill was considered symptomatic of flighty management. Americans were looking for competence, and, based on Obama's excellent campaign, they thought they had found it.

As the transition team got rolling, we thought we had elected a gifted executive-in-chief. However, as the train wreck nominations of Bill Richardson, Tom Daschle and Judd Gregg piled up beside the Obama Express, this perception began to wane. According to one student of the matter, Obama's team is now lagging behind the average in terms of an efficient presidential transition.

Confidence withered further as the Democrats in Congress set about creating a stimulus bill that embodied just the sort of partisan nonsense that Obama had campaigned against. Why he turned this vital and visible task over to Nancy Pelosi, et al remains a mystery. Further weakening the president's image were the out-of-school musings by Senate Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd about bank nationalization, and his insertion of an unwanted pay cap provision into the stimulus bill. The country wondered: why doesn't Obama rein them in? Can't he control his own party? The answer was a resounding "no" -- and last week's Omnibus Bill added salt to the wound.

The Obama administration also began to take on the look of a start-up third world university where academics come cheap. He has set up his own think tank -- complete with competing squads of economists and an unprecedented eight new White House offices to deal with issues ranging from urban affairs to cyber-security to faith-based initiatives. What happened to the cabinet? Why do we need whole new layers of bureaucracy? -- Unpleasant reminders of Jimmy Carter's proclivity for "studying" and dithering began to seep into the nation's collective consciousness.

But, the most important blow to America's complacency was nestled in the fiscal 2010 budget. Here Obama emerged naked, with all his ideological pock marks exposed. Those who viewed him as a pragmatist and centrist were struck dumb. There is no way to read the budget issued by the White House as anything but a "pronounced move to redistribute wealth" -- words used even by the ever-admiring New York Times. Now we know.

The United States has ever been a fair-minded country of people who admire success and want to be successful. They have not expected the government to provide their livelihood, but rather to provide the circumstances under which they can provide for themselves. Though frightening job losses, the Wall Street bailout and subsequent tales of excess have sorely tested that predilection, it is still the bedrock of the American way.

Americans will look to Republicans to offer a choice in the next election cycle. They will be disappointed, and stay home, if Republicans continue to look obstructionist and to offer no solutions to the nation's problems. It's all well and good to vote against a messy stimulus bill when the country is in the grip of a fearsome recession, but where does that posturing take us? Voters want a boost to the economy, but they want the right one. Even to my ears the "cut taxes and everything will turn out well" line sounds uninspired.

I hope that Michael Steele, the new head of the Republican Party, is up to the task. This nation is headed in a frightening direction, and it will take strong leadership to stem the slippery slide towards socialism. There, I've said it. That's what's on the table -- old fashioned European-style socialism. Has it worked on the Continent? No. Do we want it here? No. Let's figure out a better way.