The Road Not Taken

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Perhaps when the elections of 2008 have finished, Republicans will not have reason to ponder what might have been. They may find a voice and a message that will carry them to victory, at least in the House, where that remains possible. But as the Wall Street Journal notes, they may have occasion to consider that refrain by Robert Frost and wonder on what could have been:

House Republicans have been taunting Democrats for turning down their offer to eliminate spending earmarks, and Democrats reply that the GOP isn’t serious. The Republicans seem intent on proving that Democrats are right, as GOP leaders showed last week in denying Arizona’s Jeff Flake a seat on the Appropriations Committee.
Mr. Flake is the scourge of earmarks and the last person Members of either party want on Congress’s main spending committee. He would have been a whistle-blower for taxpayers, in particular against the powerful Democrats who get the most earmarks now that they are in the majority, such as Pennsylvania’s Jack Murtha. But Republican spenders couldn’t tolerate someone who would call out their pork too.

With Roger Wicker getting a mid-term promotion to the Senate, the House GOP caucus had an opportunity to take the road less traveled — in fact, hardly traveled for generations. They had an opportunity to put some teeth behind their rhetoric on pork by appointing Jeff Flake to Appropriations. His downside? Insufficient loyalty; Republicans had served as targets for Flake’s anti-pork ire as well as Democrats.
Jo Bonner’s appointment doesn’t mean that the world has ended, either. Bonner has an atrocious RePork Card rating, as the WSJ notes, and his previous votes on Charlie Rangel’s Monument to Me doesn’t create a lot of confidence at the start. Those who know Bonner believe him when he states that he will adhere to the new GOP guidelines on pork, an improvement over what preceded it — nothing — but not the unilateral rejection of pork that activists desired. Bonner deserves a chance to prove himself, and the acknowledgment from House GOP leadership that he will do so at least shows more seriousness on this issue.
However, in order to clean up Congress and to atone for the Republican role in the pork explosion over the past decade, the House GOP needs to have a lot more people rejecting pork altogether. If the entire caucus and party staged a unilateral moratorium on the corrosive practice, they could turn that into a message that resonates among an electorate that has soured on Congress to a historical degree — in which only 13% of Americans approve of the branch of government that most closely represents themselves.
The Republicans need to take the road less traveled. In the end, it would make all the difference.