Their view: Democrats not the only ones facing choices

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Barack Obama took a Bush-like thumpin’ last week in Massachusetts, no doubt about that. And he brought it upon himself.

As a newcomer to national politics, the president can come across as a British colonial overseer who arrived in a far-off province to tell the locals how things should work. He’s played the noble loner to the hilt, often pointing out everyone else’s mistakes — by his homeland security, the media and, particularly, his predecessor.

Now, he’s learning how hard governing is in Washington. And he’s showing some signals that he’s getting the point. Let’s hope. He and the country will benefit if he matches his inspiring personal journey and detached intellect with solutions that reflect the broad mainstream.

Of course, there’s another element in play in the Scott Brown era, and that is how Republicans respond now that they have enough Senate votes to stop big Democratic proposals.

Republicans could go with the tea-party crowd and pursue only conservative solutions. You can see how some might reach that conclusion, too. Conservative tea partiers helped elect Republican Brown to the Senate from Democratic Massachusetts, after all.

But Republicans should resist the conservative-only temptation for two reasons. First, they tried that with Tom DeLay and fell out of favor. Second, the conservative-only approach would be as much a mistake philosophically as the liberal-dominated approach by Democrats Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi on health care, the stimulus and regulating the economy. Strict conservatism and its worship of low taxes, minimal regulations and unlimited markets can no more govern the country on its own than strict liberalism and its worship of tax hikes over spending cuts, regulation of Wall Street and Main Street and the power of government.

Our problems need a blended approach, one that balances tax hikes and spending cuts, regulation and deregulation, markets and government. And we need that as much in states like Texas, with their budget shortfalls and struggling economies, as we do in Washington, where health care, deficits and the economy depend upon finding the proper balance.

This leads us to the GOP’s next option. For the country’s good, their problem-solvers need to work with Obama and Democrats in finding a way forward on such issues as health care, school standards and banking regulation.

The GOP has this kind of leader in Washington. John McCain. Lindsey Graham. Charles Grassley. Susan Collins. Olympia Snowe. They are among the Republican senators who have shown they can work with Democrats, no matter the political cost. Even the ever-partisan John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who heads his party’s senatorial campaign committee, has introduced reforms with Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy and Dianne Feinstein.

By taking control of their party’s show, the problem-solvers can help Republicans show they know how to govern. In a nutshell, that’s what voters are looking for from both parties in Washington.

Finally, Republican governors need to show innovative leadership. Sorry, Rick Perry and Sarah Palin, I don’t mean ranting-and-railing against government. Instead, apply the same balance to state problems that Washington Republicans need to take to national challenges.

In the 1990s, the GOP fielded a stellar group of governors. Leaders like George W. Bush, Christine Todd Whitman, William Weld, Pete Wilson and John Engler promoted concepts like preventive government, welfare reform, school accountability and even environmental responsibility. They worked with Democrats and Republicans alike in pursuing their goals.

Except for a few Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who’s leaving office, the GOP doesn’t have many governors like that today. Will any Republicans running for governor today, like Kay Bailey Hutchison in Texas or Meg Whitman in California, take up the mantle?

The party should hope so. Former Democratic Sen. David Boren of Oklahoma had it right when he told me last week that voters are saying a plague on both houses. The public could turn on Republicans just as quickly as they did on Obama and the Democrats.

The above column was originally published Jan. 27 by the Dallas Morning News. Content was made available by