The GOP Now Has Skin in the Game

11/04/2010 12:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What should we make of the midterm elections? Is it a political correction, a revolution or the repudiation of liberalism?

While many seek to define this election, I contend it raises more questions than it answers.

When only 33 percent of those polled feel the country is headed in the right direction, according to the most recent Ipsos/Reuters findings, change in political leadership is understandable.

The public's patience for Democrats to fix the problem was substantially shorter than the leeway granted to Republicans to initially oversee the existing challenges.

I understand many are angry and concerned about America's economic decline.

Why did we not see similar rancor when President George W. Bush instituted a prescription-drug entitlement without paying for it; when Wall Street firms received a $700 billion bailout; when the Bush administration led the passage of gargantuan tax cuts without the corresponding reductions in spending and when we fought two wars on borrowed dollars with neither appearing as a line item in the federal budget?

News that the country has rejected Democrat policies may be greatly exaggerated. It's not Armageddon for the Democrats anymore than it's Shangri-La for the Republicans.

Our system tends to work best with divided government. No matter how noble the cause, there is something about one party controlling the presidency and both houses of Congress that organically creates hubris, potentially blinding one to the flaws embedded in the policies they put forth.

Moreover, we cannot discount the bizarre aspect of this year's election that anger toward Democrats does not poll as high as disapproval of Republican policies.

Though the congressional Democrats' approval of 41 percent is nothing to write home about, it is still superior to the 35 percent approval for congressional Republicans, according to the most recent Newsweek poll. This hardly reflects a mandate.

Republicans benefit by not being Democrats for the past two years, just as the opposite held true for Democrats in 2006 and 2008. Whatever success realized by the Republican Congress being the party of "no" has been neutralized by now having skin in the game.

To fulfill a campaign promise, the new House majority will undoubtedly hold the ceremonial exercise to repeal aspects of the recently passed health care legislation. It will be ceremonial because there are not enough GOP votes in the Senate to overturn the legislation and the president has the power of veto.

But the GOP leadership has internal problems to contend with.

Is it possible for the electorate-- along with the candidates they sent to Congress -- to hate gridlocked government, while at the same time holding on to the notion that only their position is right?

The difference between campaigning and governing will determine how effective the newly minted Republican House majority will be. The Republican House majority is a strange coalition based in part by anger and a firm belief that its ideology is "the truth," which does not lend itself to compromise.

During the campaign, I recall a sign held by a supporter of the tea party movement that read: "No compromise when you're right." The fervor that this slogan inflames on the campaign trail becomes the admission of naiveté when it comes to doing the people's business and avoiding gridlock.

If this becomes the philosophy of the newly-elected members of the GOP House, it is difficult to see how Republicans discontinue their current role as obstructionist.

Are we headed for another government shutdown? Will new members of the Republican Congress balk at earmarks as they claim? How can tax cuts without spending cuts that do not include defense, Social Security and Medicare not reduce the deficit?

The questions that ultimately come from this election are can the new coalition of Republicans coexist with its leadership, and can those who ran on the absoluteness of their ideas function in an atmosphere where compromise is essential to avoid gridlock?

The real winner in this election may ultimately be President Barack Obama. The midterm results may force him to find his political voice, to be conciliatory at times and fight for the things he believes in.

It is the president who sets the agenda; he is still on the offensive. But he can ill-afford to allow presumed Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to remain on the sidelines.

The unknown variable in this year's election results: can Boehner and McConnell lead individuals who may not see any value in being led?

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at or visit his Web site