Congressional Republicans have not had a happy time of late. Indeed, for their opponents, the GOP on Capitol Hill has been the gift that keeps on giving – from Larry Craig’s rest-room antics to the seemingly endless stream of Jack Abramoff-related scandals, the Republican Party has single-handedly kept the blogosphere in business. And, with a multitude of retirements opening up more competitive races than is wise for a party on the slide, it looked like the bad times would keep on rolling
Then, during the month of August, something changed. It looks as if the GOP, if not leaping from its sick-bed quite yet, might be ready to put the defibrillator away.
The House Republicans were angry. Speaker Pelosi had called time for the summer without allowing a vote on offshore drilling and they weren’t going to take it lying down. Holidays were cancelled, members were torn from their airline seat mid-pretzel. It was time for a good old fashioned sit-in. On the floor of the House. With speeches. On drilling. It looked like the sort of stunt that would start with a huff of indignation and end in an embarrassed whimper with all involved struggling to remember whose idea it was in the first place.
As the sit-in continued, the GOPers tried to stop their spectacle becoming a broken record by engaging in competitive hyperbole. “In some sense”, announced Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN), “you might say this is now the Alamo.” If Bachmann was at the Alamo, Tom Price (GA) was in Beijing, “We’re here in the Olympic spirit,” he claimed, "The athletes demand excellence of themselves. The American people deserve excellence from their government.” John Shadegg (AZ), incredibly, attempted to claim credit for a recent fall in oil prices and Virginia Fox (NC), appropriately wanted to separate sheep and goats by asking, “are you pro-American energy? Are you anti-American energy?”
While this all seemed a wonderful opportunity to scoff, it may just have started to work. Having lost the shackles of expectation that come with being in the majority, the Republicans have rediscovered the art of ‘bomb-throwing’ perfected under their former Speaker (and guest agitator at the House last week) Newt Gingrich. For all the futility and frequent silliness of the sit-in itself, it, along with their presidential nominee’s support of offshore drilling, has allowed the Republicans to begin to define the terms of the debate on gas prices and leave the Democrats bickering and struggling to articulate their solution to the problem.
The Democrats still look odds-on to make gains in both chambers come November but with Congressional approval ratings at microscopic levels (never a happy omen for the party in charge) and gas prices promising to be a central issue of the campaign, it could be that the Republicans have finally, ahem, struck oil.
By Ross English