A Revival for Reform Republicanism?

Brian Gongol

I hate that, in 2018, so many people are so cynical about the condition of government that phrases like "deep state" and "drain the swamp" are in the parlance of ordinary conversation. It dismays me that there are enough examples of gross ethical failure on the part of elected and appointed officials in Washington that it feels quite a lot like we're re-living the Warren Harding administration.

But I also hold out hope that, just as Harding was succeeded by Calvin Coolidge (surely one of the five most straight-shooting and honest Presidents), perhaps the current administration will be succeeded by a similarly clean and honest leader.

The Republican Party has always been at its best when it has been a pro-reform party, pushing a message of good, clean government. From its foundation as an anti-slavery party to Teddy Roosevelt's vigorous Republican progressivism, from Dwight Eisenhower's budget-balancing to Ronald Reagan's efforts to slow the growth of government, Republican leadership on the issue of the honest administration of government has always been one of the party's signature issues, on the Federal level as well as the state and local levels.

But any movement runs the risk of getting sloppy around the edges, and over time, the idea that government can be run well seems to have gotten lost. It hasn't helped that a quasi-anarchist streak has taken root in some Republican circles, where government itself is always framed as the enemy -- even in those cases where most level-headed people see a reasonable role for the republic to assert itself.

It hasn't helped the situation that both major parties have tolerated bad behavior in their own ranks. Republicans endlessly decry the dubious fundraising practices of the Clinton Foundation, while Democrats can point right back at President Trump, who spends a quarter of his days in office visiting properties related to his personal business interests.

So it is high time for someone to step into the ethical gap, as we can applaud Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for doing. Sasse is pushing a set of five reform bills that offer some hope for reviving Reform Republicanism:

A lot of ink has been spilled in judging the character of the people serving in office in Washington. Some of it is unfair, much of it is cynical, and some of the scorn is appropriate. But ultimately, nothing gets better without reforms that get to the root systemic causes of the problems we see. Sasse's proposed ethics reforms are a step in the right direction, but they may not be popular with the members who would be affected by them. What matters now is whether the public voices support for a long-overdue revival of reform.