I'm fond of occasionally telling certain men in my life to "put on your big-boy underwear and deal with it." You know, boyfriends, ex-husbands, teenage sons — you get the idea. Ideally, the admonition is delivered with a smile.
That's my version of this season's supposed election catch phrase, "man up." As in Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharon Angle telling Democrat Harry Reid to "man up" when dealing with problems like the long-term viability of Social Security. Maybe these days it should be "woman up?"
Some version of the phrase may come in handy right after next week's election, when Republicans are expected to take over the House of Representatives. Assuming they win, will Republicans man up?
Republicans will have a small window of opportunity to change the terms of the debate. A Republican-dominated House will be under scrutiny by the mainstream media in a way the Democratic-controlled House never was. Even those with the right intentions of one day reforming our economy and cutting spending (presumably with a Republican president) easily could fall apart under pressure to do otherwise. Having lived and worked in Washington for 20 years, maybe I'm cynical — or maybe I'm just realistic. Virtually every entrenched orientation there is to make government bigger. Some want to do it faster, but typically it all goes in the same direction
It was no accident that the Republican leadership, in its recent "Pledge to America," promised to roll back nondiscretionary spending to 2008 levels. That's like going on a diet and saying "no more triple-scoop hot fudge sundaes — only single scoop from now on!" Instead, the entire diet has to change.
With a Democratic President and probably a still-Democratic-controlled Senate, a Republican-led House can stop any Democratic agenda — but beyond that at most the new House will have a bully pulpit. Yet, that can be powerful if used to move the entire national political discussion onto a new paradigm. Stop talking about income tax rates and start talking about scrapping the income tax and replacing it with a consumption tax. Spending, entitlements? If Britain can seriously slash theirs, as they've recently started doing, surely we can "man up" and do so here.
And nothing short of advocating repeal of the healthcare takeover will do.
If House Republicans return to the tactics typical of the early 2000s — spend just a little less than the Democrats here, tax just a little less there — they will have squandered the political opportunity of the 20th century. And the Tea Party, which has been self-disciplined enough to energize the Republican base without splitting into a third party, will be tempted to bolt altogether in 2012.
I saw it all the time in Washington: Republicans campaigned on "draining the swamp," only when they got to Washington they suddenly decided it was more like a hot tub and they kind of enjoyed it, as political wag Stan Evans liked to put it.
So, yes, Republicans need to man-up. Living back in the Midwest now, I'm more optimistic than ever that the American people will back them in it.
Maybe I should be more explicit: After Nov. 2, Republicans will need to demonstrate fast that they are willing to "put on their big-boy underwear and just deal with it." If they don't, they won't be on the political ascendency for long.
Betsy Hart is the author of "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting Is Hurting Our Kids — And What to Do About It" (Putnam Books). E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.