– April 19, 1998
What kind of party is the GOP in the spring of 1998? Is it the authentic voice of a principled conservatism or, as its enemies insist, merely the political instrument of corporate America?
With the return of Congress to the capital, the GOP faces decisions that will go a long way toward defining the party for the fall election. What are these critical issues?
First is the Senate vote on expanding NATO to the border of Russia. While the necessary two-thirds vote seems certain, second thoughts are being entertained by senators on the risks inherent in handing out open-ended war guarantees to Eastern Europe.
The erratic behavior of Boris Yeltsin, the apprehension over his successor, the rising anti-Americanism in Russia and the boiling tensions between Riga and Moscow over alleged mistreatment of Latvia’s Russian minority have all led to a sobering realization: NATO expansion means endless entanglements in explosive ethnic quarrels in parts of Europe where no vital U.S. interest exists.
The two-month delay in the Senate approval of NATO expansion has served America well, giving its leaders more time to reflect on a decision as important in terms of war and peace as the one taken a century ago, in a similar moment of triumphal exuberance. That was the fateful decision to annex the Philippines, which put America on a collision course with the empire of Japan.
The second issue that will define the GOP is how it responds to Clinton’s demand for $18 billion more in new foreign aid for future bailouts by the International Monetary Fund. On this, the conservative movement is united in opposition, while the corporate elite is demanding early approval. Indeed, more billions for the IMF, to protect overseas investors, is a litmus test for the business roundtable.
But today’s IMF is a standing insult to the conservative philosophy. It intrudes in the internal affairs of nations, puts American tax dollars at risk to bail out private investments, and imposes economic policies, such as tax hikes and currency devaluation, that most conservatives believe are ruinous for a nation.
By 40-9, a House Banking Committee voted for the Clinton bill, but now, Majority Leader Dick Armey has taken a stand against this corporate welfare. Hence, the final Republican vote will tell us
whether the congressional GOP has the courage of its convictions, or indeed any convictions at all, other than a sincere desire to avoid fights and a firm resolve to retain power, whatever the price.
The third issue is the matter of U.N. “back dues.” While the administration has charged Congress with making America the world’s biggest “deadbeat nation,” the U.S. side to this argument is not even being presented by the Department of State.
Invariably, it is U.S. armed forces that are called on to play indispensable roles in peacekeeping operations ordered by the U.N. Security Council. But almost never is the United States credited with the enormous costs incurred in undertaking these assignments, costs estimated at near $10 billion. Instead, we are informed that the United States must continue to pay up to a third of all peacekeeping operations and a fourth of the entire U.N. budget, while Third World regimes see their annual U.N. dues reduced to less than it costs an American family to send a kid away to a state college for one year.
A fourth issue that will define the party as we approach the millennium is the $506 billion cigarette tax, the decade’s largest transfer of wealth and power from citizens to government. That a Republican Senate Commerce Committee would give this tax hike a 19-1 favorable vote is a measure of how Clintonized the party has become. The spirit of Dick Morris now animates all of Washington.
For Republicans to violate their “no new taxes” pledge, simply because Clinton managed to structure this tax hike and power grab as a choice between the “tobacco industry” and “our children,” would be tantamount to the party’s admission of terminal incompetence in the public policy debate.
It is by the choices we make that we define who we are. And by the choices Congress makes in the weeks remaining in this session, the Republican Party will define who it is, what it believes and whose ideas, ideals and interests it wishes to represent.
It is no secret that the nation is alienated from politics and that the Republican Party base is alienated from a Congress in which it once invested perhaps too much hope. But if the congressional party puts politics above principles this spring and summer, an exasperated nation may just show that it prefers principled people to Republicans this fall.