Days of Whine and Poses

Our guest columnist is David Brooks.

Two years ago, Democrats waxed romantic. This year, the Republicans seem modest and cautious. I haven’t seen this many sober Republicans since America lost the Ryder Cup.

We have to be careful not to get carried away, says Lamar Alexander, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate. “I was thinking about putting photos of Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman in the Republican cloakroom to remind us not to overreach,” he told me on Monday.

We have to beware of unrealistic expectations, emphasized Senator Jon Kyl, the second-ranking Republican. Republicans can’t accomplish big things without Democratic help. They can’t defund Obamacare on their own or pass a new tax law.

Many Americans are still skeptical about us, acknowledged Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House. We can’t do anything that might unsettle them, like shutting down the government. Instead, Republicans need to offer reassurance…

Republican leaders are also prepared to take what they can get, even if it’s not always what they would like. Republicans would like to extend all the Bush tax cuts until the sun fizzles out. They’re willing to take a compromise extension of two or three years. Republicans are under intense pressure from the business lobbies to compromise with Democrats to get certain things done: more infrastructure spending and tax breaks for energy innovation.

The predictable response to all this gradualism is that the Republican leaders may want this, but there is no way the fire-breathing Tea Party-types are going to cooperate. There’s some truth to this…

There will also be clashes over budgets, raising the debt limit and doctors’ reimbursements. (Democrats are talking about leaving behind legislative traps to maximize G.O.P. discomfort.)

But this leadership-versus-the-crazies storyline is overblown. The new Republicans may distrust government, but this will be a Republican class with enormous legislative experience. Tea Party hype notwithstanding, most leading G.O.P. candidates either served in state legislatures or previously in Washington. The No Compromise stalwarts like Senator Jim DeMint have a big megaphone but few actual followers within the Senate.

Over all, if it is won, a Republican House majority will be like a second marriage. Less ecstasy, more realism. The party could have used a few more years to develop plans about the big things, like tax and entitlement reform. But if a party is going to do well in an election, it should at least be a party that has developed a sense of modesty.

The Management would like to apologize for running a column from last November by mistake. You may not have noticed, since everything Brooks wrote remains true.

The Second Marriage [NYT, 11/1/2010, via Steve Benen]

Congratulations, David Brooks. You just won the William Kristol Award for most laughably, objectively disprovable commentary in a New York Times column.

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