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Let the 2010 election battles begin

Ah, January, and a new political season

It is now, officially, an election year. Let the combat begin.

2006 and 2008 were bad years to be a Republican. An unpopular presidency and too many Republican scandals made for big losses at the ballot box. And the brand lost focus and allowed itself to be characterized as fiscally irresponsible.

But 2010 could be time for a re-birth for Republicans, if several things go their way between now and November. Current polls show that the Democrats in Congress are no longer preferred over the Republicans, a good sign for the loyal opposition.

But the Republicans could use some other boosts to their current position as simply not being the inept Democrats in charge. It is probably not enough to win in 2010 by simply claiming the other guys can’t get anything done … a sizable number of Americans think that is a good idea, a Congress that can’t pass more bad laws that favor big business and big government.

So Republicans need some failures by the Democrats and some successes for themselves.

The biggest failure available right now would be the Democrats flubbing the attempt at health care reform and failing to pass any legislation. That would signal a major crisis of leadership in the Obama administration and would be the best short term news for Republicans, though not so much for the American people.

The next biggest boost by failure for Republicans would be any sign that the Obama administration is “soft” on terror, thus re-establishing the long held conviction that only Republicans love war enough to find places to fight forever.

It is not that Republicans hope our wars go badly under a Democratic president, simply that they can demonstrate that they, Republicans, would handle war so much better, given their historic desire to find war somewhere at all times.

Third, though the Obama administration inherited both a banking crisis of worldwide dimensions and a recession deeper than any since the Great Depression, Republicans can, without true confession, hope that the economy, especially the jobs market, remains soft with unemployment at 10 percent.

After all, nothing cheers up a voter more than throwing the bums out when jobs are scarce. And who remembers that it was our Republican friends who gave us the gifts of unpaid for wars and huge deficits?

But Republicans should not count on only the failures of the Democrats to win them new seats in Congress, they should also find some successes, though admittedly those are hard to come by when your minority in Congress limits your power severely.

But the most successful brand identification Republicans have had in the last half century is that of fiscal conservatives, an idea represented by the Tea Partiers. There is little doubt that Republicans need to re-capture this political argument as their foundational concept.

And yet, how can they stand for fiscal conservatism when they advocate spending money on wars by letting future generations pay for the wars? How can they be fiscal conservatives when they create new Medicare costs that are unfunded?

And, at the end of the day, given this economic setting, how can any fiscally sound party suggest that we can fix the economy without both raising taxes and cutting spending?

Even if we do both, it will take decades to grow the economy out of the current debt. But Republicans will not support cutting spending on war, nor support paying the real costs of Medicare and Social Security.

So while they would be the party of fiscal sanity, in the end they will not do so.

They will much more likely be known in 2010 as the party that isn’t the Democrats.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.