Happy Days Are Here Again?

When Paul and I were college students, we had a friend who was one of the handful of Young Republicans on campus. Once, contemplating the day’s news–this was during the Nixon administration–he said, mournfully: “It was better when we were out of power.”

That’s a sentiment you’ll never hear from a Democrat, yet it does seem that there is something in many Republicans that relishes the oppositionist role. Today, in his first column as chief political correspondent for the Examiner, Byron York checks in on Republicans and finds them happy:

You see it all over Capitol Hill, in the hallways, the hearing rooms, the gathering spots. Republicans, coming off a devastating, across-the-board electoral defeat, are … happy. Being in opposition, after eight years of a Republican presidency and 12 years of GOP rule in Congress, suits many of them just fine. …

“We weren’t very happy with the results of the election, and on through the inaugural, but I guarantee you, I’ve never seen the spirit of Republicans as high as it was at the GOP retreat,” Arizona Rep. John Shadegg told me, referring to the House Republican getaway a week ago at the Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Va. …

“I’m much happier,” Sen. Jim DeMint told me between votes on the stimulus. “Our message was so muddled with Bush in the White House, often going the big-spending approach, that we could not define ourselves in any other way.”

Now, unmuddled, Republicans have won the first big message war of the Obama administration — and in the stimulus battle made a better case for spending restraint than they did in the previous eight years.

As I argued here, the history of Republican control of Congress from 1994 to 2006, as well as the Reagan and two Bush presidencies, raises serious questions about the viability of small-government conservatism. For now, though, being “not as bad as the other guys” is making the Republicans look pretty good.

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