With power comes responsibility, and also danger. Eager as they are to reclaim control of the House and possibly the Senate, Republicans in Washington are also quite aware that they face a problem:
How do they appease the political bloodlust they’ve created and fed upon within the GOP base without alienating the more moderate center in the process? And if forced to choose between the two, which way will they turn?
To some degree, this is a uniquely modern problem. In the old days, politicians could feed red meat to the campaign crowds back home, while quietly finding ways to compromise in Washington. But with the rise of ideological enforcers in the media and blogosphere, that has become a much more difficult trick to pull off.
Just ask U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
Last week, in a Wall Street Journal story headlined “GOP House leaders seek to avoid past mistakes,” Issa was quoted to the effect that the House ought to at least try to find areas of agreement with the Obama administration.
“It’s pretty clear the American people expect us to use the existing gridlock to create compromise and advance their agenda. They want us to come together [with the administration] after we agree to disagree.”
“Compromise?” Did he really say “compromise?”
For that sin, Issa was summoned by the pope and forced to publicly recant his heresy. The outrage on the right was so intense that Issa was forced to call into the Rush Limbaugh show that very day to be scared straight by The Mighty One:
“The people that are going to secure the Republican victory look at Barack Obama as somebody who’s destroying their country. Not somebody to be compromised with, somebody who needs to be stopped. They know that you’re not going to have the ability to get him to agree with your legislation. You’re not going to be able to override his vetoes. But the idea that you’re gonna end up working with him is anathema. People want this man stopped.”
“… people don’t care about how the House runs. They don’t care about open debate. They care about stopping Obama and the Democrats! They care about saving the country! They don’t care if Obama goes to jail! They don’t care if Axelrod goes to jail. They want them stopped. They want them to have no power.”
Suitably chastened, Issa promised there would be no compromise of Republican values, and went on to call Obama “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.”
“I head the (House Oversight) committee that’s all about making sure that the administration obeys the law, that waste, fraud, and abuse not be tolerated, which obviously is not the case now, but that’s the change that’s going to happen from my position. I’m looking forward to it,” he told Limbaugh.
Placated, The Mighty One dismissed Issa and sent him on his way.
However, in a TV interview a few days later, Bloomberg’s Al Hunt asked Issa about that interview. It was pretty funny, in a sad sort of way:
HUNT: OK. You said Barack Obama is, quote, “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.” On corruption –
ISSA: My goodness, you’re listening to Rush Limbaugh.
HUNT: Yes, I am. On corruption, which presidents does he rank with? And what are his most corrupt acts?
ISSA: First of all, when you look at Sestak and Romanoff, this attempt to clear the primary, that’s an example where he’s not the most corrupt. It appears as though presidents have been doing this, even though it’s illegal, for a long time.
HUNT: Right. But where is he the most corrupt?
ISSA: I think the process that we’re dealing with, where insourcing, for example — and this is right on my committee — we have every day in the defense and non-defense community, executives of the government tapping people on the shoulder saying, “You know, your contract’s not going to be renewed. We’re going to insource that. You should take this job now for a pay raise.”
We’ve had example after example. Yes, we plan on investigating it. I want the American people to get products and services at the lowest possible price. I don’t want to determine that it should be in-house or out-of-house.
HUNT: But does that rank with Watergate and Teapot Dome as one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times?
ISSA: Well, that’s the question, is, what’s modern times? Certainly, you’re right. Teapot Dome’s a good example. Look, Andrew Jackson was the most corrupt president probably –
HUNT: Do you think Obama’s more corrupt than any president that you’ve known in the last 20 years?
ISSA: He certainly is playing faster and looser with the rules with very little justification than George W. Bush did. George W. Bush played fast and loose with the rules after 9/11 trying to make us safe. He did what he thought he had to do, and he did it with pretty — a lot of bravado.
It’s very different when you just simply say, “We’re going to insource things,” and all of your government begins insourcing without legitimate justification. The EPA acting without obeying its own rules, there’s a number of parts of government that have been working quickly –
HUNT: But do you still think he’s one of the most corrupt presidents –
ISSA: I think he has failed to administer his — to oversee his administration in any kind of a meaningful way. Vice President Biden was supposed to be the great overseer of stimulus money.
ISSA: And he was supposed to do all this oversight. Chairman Towns — and I checked with him recently — and I, neither one of us have had a meeting with the vice president, and we’re the House committee of jurisdiction.
The next two years are going to be fascinating, in the same way that watching a car wreck is fascinating.