November 17 is not a day that usually rings out in the minds of most Americans and historians as significant. No one remembers any key deaths, births or events of national significance that occur on this day, nevertheless it should be. November 17 is actually a day that has been absolutely critical to the Republican Party over the last 30 years, it has been the day of some of their greatest short term victories and perhaps long term defeats. In the wake of their recent takeover of Congress, it might do the GOP some good to stroll back through memory lane and realize exactly what lessons the past may have for them.
Three crucial events with major leaders of the party, three crucial events that set the stage for Republican power for years all occurred on Nov. 17 and each one has a story to tell for politicians who are about to enter Congress’ hallowed halls next January. On Nov. 17, 1973 Richard Nixon held a press conference with over 400 members of the associated press. During a grueling one hour televised session where he was peppered with questions about Watergate, and criminal behavior he uttered perhaps the most famous words of his presidency: “People have got to know whether their president was a crook. Well I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.” Those famous words spoken right in the heat of the Watergate scandal came back to haunt Nixon in a major way, they became the butt of jokes, a repudiation of his defense and ultimately his lasting rhetorical legacy in a presidency brought down by scandal. But the magic of Nov. 17 for Republicans does not stop there.
On Nov. 17 of 2000, the Florida Supreme Court stepped in to stop Katherine Harris, Florida secretary of state and George W. Bush campaign operative, from certifying the state election results until further investigations of irregularities could be done. This extended the recount battle for months as Republicans attempted every legislative and political trick in their arsenal to win the election. Eventually it worked, Bush was installed in the White House by the Supreme Court, and at the end of his eight year term with two ongoing wars and the worst economy Americans had seen in two generations the Republican brand was garbage. The party was forced to resort to an old re-tread in John McCain and a political superstar turned punch-line just to have a nominee for the 2008 elections. A similar result happened with the next crucial Republican November.
On Nov. 17 of 2003 Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in as the 38th governor of California. After the raucous recall vote the “governator” as he was nicknamed was seen as a salvation to California’s constant energy and economic problems. His outsider and celebrity status were seen as pluses in the minds of voters. After two terms later the state is in worse condition than it was before, the “governator” is about as popular as George Bush, when he left office, and Californians were so sick of Republican leadership that they elected 1970’s re-tread Jerry Brown rather than see the GOP keep the state house.
So what ultimately is the lesson here for the Republican Party? Take a look at Wikipedia every month to see if they are making mistakes from the past? Not quite, in each of these crucial instances Republicans has what seemed like an incredible victory or accomplishment in their grasp, that through greed, arrogance and lack of planning turned out to be problematic in the long term. “I am not a crook” seemed like a good idea at the time, but it blew up in their faces. While I’m sure most in the GOP wouldn’t give back eight years of Bush, their behavior during the Florida re-count soured the voting generation that became galvanized behind the Obama campaign. In a similar way Arnold was supposed to become the next Ronald Reagan, actor turned governor turned president, instead he leaves office sheepishly, the state is still broke, with no Republicans, conservative or moderate, even wanting to be photographed with him in 2010. The lesson is clear, to the new House Republicans of 2010. While this victory is sweet now, you can’t waste it with greed and foolishness. They must actually pass policies to help the nation, or down the road this “victory” will backfire on them. If the GOP wastes the next two years on investigating president Obama and repealing healthcare I am sure by November 17th of 2012 I’ll be writing another column about Republican failure grabbed from the jaws of victory.