With dozens of freshman Republicans heading to Washington DC in the next few days, advice will be in large supply as they prepare for the transition from campaigning to governing. Tea Party activists sent them to the Beltway with clear mandates on spending, debt, and checking the growth of government, but Americans have seen what often happens when Mr. and Mrs. Smith go to Washington. A curious case of Congressitis sets in, where suddenly the potential power of their office overwhelms the sensibilities that got them elected in the first place.
Sarah Palin has been there and seen it first hand. In an open letter to the freshman class, Palin offers the policy syllabus so familiar to those in and around the Tea Party movement: stop ObamaCare, cut spending, shrink government, enforce the borders, and strengthen national security. Palin lays all of these goals out well, but her advice at the end about the distractions that will push the newly-elected from their path is perhaps the most important part of her letter, and should be required reading for every Republican on Capitol Hill:
Remember that some in the media will love you when you stray from the time-tested truths that built America into the most exceptional nation on earth. When the Left in the media pat you on the back, quickly reassess where you are and readjust, for the liberals’ praise is a warning bell you must heed. Trust me on that.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend an evening with Clarence Thomas when he released his memoirs, My Grandfather’s Son, while in the company of other conservative journalists at the Heritage Foundation. I asked Justice Thomas about this very phenomenon as it applies to the Supreme Court, and while he declined Bill Kristol’s encouragement to get very specific in his answer, Justice Thomas diagnosed the problem perfectly for all Beltway denizens:
He got perhaps his biggest laugh when answering one of my questions. I had asked him if he agreed that some justices have “grown” on the bench, without being specific, although Kristol encouraged him to get very specific. Thomas demurred on the specificity, but took some time to give a thoughtful answer. He agreed that the phenomenon exists, and that he sees it as a pressure of incentives and disincentives. Some justices worried about how law schools and other elites will perceive them, and begin to develop opinions with an eye to prestigious invitations and awards — and the punishing lack of same if they do not evolve towards the accepted wisdom of academics. “I wouldn’t get an invitation from Columbia University unless I was a Middle East dictator with nuclear weapons,” he gave as an example, again with his trademark booming laugh.
With that in mind, the freshman class should steel themselves that getting the job done right will mean few plaudits in the media in the short run, even fewer speaking invitations, and no medals or plaques from lobbyists and Academia. Their reward will be a more secure, less indebted, and fiscally restored United States of America, and the gratitude of a nation in the long run for restoring sanity and accountability. And frankly, that should be enough.