Senators First

David Frum has a good essay on the need for Republicans to focus their attention and money on Congressional races.  His main message?  Senators first. While I don’t agree with all of his comments about the McCain campaign and its electoral prospects, he does highlight a crucial issue:  this doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing election.  Our only choice is not between a complete victory over Obama or a complete Republican defeat.  Just as there are levels of winning, there are levels of losing.

The Senate is a crucial bulwark, and the key threshold is around 40 votes.  If Republicans fall below that, their ability to moderate, to interrogate, or to challenge far-left policies will be substantially limited.  A few seats one way or another will make a bigger difference, under current circumstances, than a few seats in the House.

It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s some good stuff on a familiar theme.  Frum lays out two main dangers from a far-left Congress:

First, with the financial meltdown, the federal government is now acquiring a huge ownership stake in the nation’s financial system. It will be immensely tempting to officeholders in Washington to use that stake for political ends — to reward friends and punish enemies. One-party government, of course, will intensify those temptations. And as the federal government succumbs, officeholders will become more and more comfortable holding that stake. The current urgency to liquidate the government’s position will subside. The United States needs Republicans and conservatives to monitor the way Democrats wield this extraordinary and dangerous new power — and to pressure them to surrender it as rapidly as feasible.

Second, the political culture of the Democratic Party has changed over the past decade. There’s a fierce new anger among many liberal Democrats, a more militant style and an angry intolerance of dissent and criticism. This is the culture of the left-wing blogosphere and MSNBC‘s evening line-up — and soon, it will be the culture of important political institutions in Washington.

Unchecked, this angry new wing of the Democratic Party will seek to stifle opposition by changing the rules of the political game. Some will want to silence conservative talk radio by tightening regulation of the airwaves via the misleadingly named “fairness doctrine”; others may seek to police the activities of right-leaning think tanks by a stricter interpretation of what is tax-deductible and what is not.

The best bulwark for a nonpolitical finance system and a national culture of open debate will be the strongest possible Republican caucus in the Senate. And it is precisely that strength that is being cannibalized now by the flailing end of the McCain-Palin campaign.

One of Frum’s strongest points is his argument that the Republican caucus in Congress (especially the Senate) can be a field for new growth.  Even if things may look somewhat dire now, Republicans need to think about the fate of elections down the road (in 2010, 2012, and so on).

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