Sunday, January 15, 2006

The new majority leader

Due to the exit of Tom DeLay from the House leadership, a new majority leader must be elected. The leading contenders had been Majority Whip Roy Blunt and John Boehner of Ohio, but Arizona Representative John Shadegg has put his hat into the ring. A darkhorse candidate, Shadegg has earned the endorsement of National Review as well as a multitude of conservative bloggers. Shadegg is the sort of conservative that I would wholly support. He's a member of the class of '94, and he voted against both No Child Left Behind and the prescription drug benefit. He lacks the ties to K Street that have tarnished the Congressional GOP, and is running as a reformer. Here's how NRO describes Shadegg:
When it comes to reform, Shadegg wants aggressively to push to tighten lobbying rules and — most importantly — increase the transparency of the legislative process, control earmarks, and change the antiquated budget process that favors out-of-control spending. In recent days, the other candidates, Majority Whip Roy Blunt and Rep. John Boehner of Ohio (the latter who, to his credit, is a longtime scourge of earmarks), have started a minor bidding war on reform. That's all to the good. We expect Shadegg — who just joined the campaign Friday morning — to up the ante in coming days. We believe he is the candidate most credible on reform, and most likely to carry it out if elected.

On policy, the Republican conference seems to have lost its way lately. Shadegg has not. He is a conviction conservative. As he told NRO earlier this week, "We need to shrink the size of government, not grow it. We need to reform government, not manage it." A majority leader can't be a purist, of course, and, as we have often noted, it's not a lack of will or conviction alone that has created limited-government conservatism's difficulties — larger forces are at play. But given the dismaying recent drift, the top of the leadership could use an infusion of Shadegg's sort of unvarnished principle.
That sounds all well and good, but let me add just a bit of cold water to the Shadegg movement.

I have no doubt of Shadegg's conservative bona fides. We absolutely need to return to the heady days of the mid-90's when Congress reasserted itself in the policy debate and was motivated by a strong desire to scale back government. As I quoted Jonah Goldberg in the post below, the best way to mitigate the pernicious effects of lobbyists is to make DC less the locus of attention. In other words, the fewer areas the feds are interested in, the fewer points of access and interest for lobbyists. And I like that Shadegg appears to be a man of tough principle unlikely to be tainted by the likes of Abramoff and company.

But the position of majority leader is not principally one for policy and ideas men. Oh, don't get me wrong, Dick Armey was fully involved in the policy process, but he was also a shrewd political operator who knew how to build coalitions and get business accomplished. DeLay was even more successful at the politics of the job, and that's one of the reasons the Dems were so eager to see him gone from the post.

Thus the position requires the skills of an individual who contains significant political acumen. He must be someone who can get legislation passed. That's what Blunt has going from. The Whip needs to kow how to get votes and keep people in line, and it's the sort of position that allows one to garner the experience needed later as majority leader. While it's also important to have in that post a person of strong ideological credentials, it's also important that the person occupying the position has the political iq to advance an agenda.

I am not blind to the message that the new selection will make regarding corruption and reform thereof. It would be an opportune moment to distance the leadership from the ties to K Street. But we can't ignore the more important goal of having in place an individual who will actually be able to get things done. This is not to say that John Shadagg is without those qualifications. Any person who has served in Congress for over a decade must have picked up on those necessary skills, and his elevation to the leadership of the Republican Policy Committee shows he has a measure of support within the GOP caucus. But I would just caution that before we in the conservative movement explode in unified support of Representative Shadagg we make sure he has those necessary qualifications that are needed in the position of majority leader.


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