12/14/2006 01:30 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Departing Republicans Toast Congress with a Glass of Whine

It's hard to imagine a more frightened, graceless exit from power than that of the Republican majority after 12 years in control of Congress. Other than perhaps the overrun Visigoths in 370 A.D.

For starters, Republicans are blaming Bill Frist for every problem on the planet, down to bad linoleum on the Senate kitchen's floor. That his fellow Republicans were classic enablers, benefiting from his heavy-fisted and partisan pronouncements for years, of course, is a matter they conveniently overlook.

It's difficult to tell who's been more petulant - Republicans who lost their seats, like Senator Conrad Burns walking off in a huff - or those who simply had to move their offices to smaller rooms set aside for the minority.

Actually, it isn't that difficult. While the former are more pronounced in the annoyance, that's understandable. They lost, after all. Sure, we're all taught in grade school about being a good loser, but when people have been bad winners for so long, why should losing make us expect any decency?

On the other hand, those Republicans who won re-election, but are longer in the majority, are generally coming across as ethereally childish. Like four-year-olds who were playing with their ancestor's precious china as if it was a toy, and had it taken away for safe keeping.

As the NY Times reported, there was Rep. E. Clay Shaw (R-FL) who unceremoniously dumped his boxes of commemorative Ronald Reagan tribute books in the hallway. Or Rep. Chris Chocola (R-IN) complaining that his office is in a better building, but the basement. Or Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) responding to Charles Rangel's (D-NY) birthday wishes on the House floor by complaining that his birthday had been several days earlier.

And there was Rick Santorum (R-PA) in his final address to the Senate testily - and bizarrely - attacking the media for reporting how badly the War in Iraq was going.

What's most notable among all this is a comment from Jim Leach (R-IA), a long-time moderate Congressman and thoroughly decent fellow, who lost his election, bemoaning about the dwindling moderates in the Congress.

"The great center of American politics," he was quoted by the Times, was no longer represented in Congress. "If you think of American history, the best and the brightest gravitated to politics. Today, that is less the case."

At first glance, there appears much truth in Mr. Leach's words. But taking a second look, it's a large misrepresentation of what's happened - not to Congress at all, but solely to the Republican Party.

It's the Republican Party which has taken the massive hit against moderates. Indeed, Democratic liberals have long-complained how its party has drifted towards the center, to avoid the "L" word label. Republican moderates, though, have been vanishing so fast they're on the Endangered Species list. In New England, moderate "Yankee Republicans" have almost completely disappeared. Indeed, other than Christopher Shays of Connecticut, there are no Republicans period from New England in the House of Representatives.

But let's go a step further. After the recent landslide victory by Democrats, the Republicans took their sole solace in claiming as their mantra that Democrats won only because they were running on conservative Republican values. That the problem Democrats now faced was managing so many different political spectrums.

This wasn't remotely true, of course. Democrats who won in November were not running on Republican values (after all, "Republican values" didn't help Republicans) - but many certainly were moderate. The very "moderate" that Jim Leach complain have disappeared in Congress.

The truth is that moderates live strongly in Washington. It's just that they live almost exclusively these days in the Democratic Party. The Republican Party has driven them away by pandering to their far-right-wing base.

And so Republicans continue their exodus from Congress by blaming everything under the sun, whining, petulantly "leaving the hallways full of broken furniture" and trying to re-write reality.

Alas, if it was only furniture that they were leaving broken.

For 12 years, Republicans lorded over Congress as a divine right. Creating the K Street Project to control all lobby money. Blocking Democratic participation on the floor of the House and Senate. And by playing politics at every opportunity while statesmanship was demanded by a nation at war. While an American city was wiped off the map. While record budget deficits put the nation's economy at risk. While actual terrorist threats like port security remained unattended.

No one expects anybody to be happy when losing power. But have the decency to keep it to yourself. There are people with real problems. People who have been out of work far longer than you. People risking their lives in an insane war you sent them to fight. When you're elected to Congress, have the decency to remember that you're a public servant of the United States, and there's no place for personal peckishness because you lost your parking space or seat at the cool kids' table.

Yes, losing is a real kick in the pants. But next time, when you play Follow the Leader, you might want to pick a different leader to follow.