How can conservatives deal best with the new president? Generate options to every White House policy? Or fix a glaring light on a crucial few?
The answer is: both of the above. There is no need for a dilemma. Both functions of a loyal political opposition can be carried out at the same time. Indeed, both must be done simultaneously, for neither will work without the other.
That’s where it gets tricky. Consider these two alternative approaches.
This approach, advanced by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, takes its name from the British parliamentary system, which draws ministers of the incumbent government largely from members of the majority in the House of Commons.
It is only natural, then, that the party out of power should turn to its counterpart members in Commons to follow (shadow) the policies and actions of the ruling ministers and come up with alternatives.
This gives British voters who elect members of Parliament a contemporary, running set of options contrary to what the ruling party is doing.
It helps keep the “ins” on their toes. Indeed, their prime minister must stand for questions from opposition members in Commons – an ongoing countercheck on abuse of power.
When a ruling party fails to stay ahead of the hounds, the shadow government, at least in theory, is equipped to step into power.
Would a direct transplant of the British shadow government work in Congress? Not likely. Differences in tradition and structure between a parliamentary system (part legislative, part executive) and Congress (solely legislative) are too great. Nor is this precisely what Bush is proposing for consideration.
A pure-British shadow government would have to embrace both Capitol Hill and the White House. And it’s already the traditional responsibility of the American minority party in the legislative branch to keep watch on the majority party in Congress and in the White House.
The minority party would have a better chance of drawing meaningful distinctions in the eyes of the electorate if it concentrated on a few majority-party issues, rather than scattering its energies and public attention.
The danger is that the minority party might never reach enough sturdy agreement within its own ranks to enable it to be consistent and understood easily. Rarely in American history has such cohesive alignment emerged in either party.
Yet, with no self-disciplined, serious “think tank” to research and articulate positions in contrast to what the majority party is doing, any minority-party spotlight on a few key issues is in danger of flickering and wavering.
And without a piercing illumination focused on those key issues, few Americans will pay close attention to what a think tank gins up.
There is a way, though, to combine the two approaches. There has to be, simply because such a way must be found — invented if necessary — to defuse the perils lying ahead for America.
This sounds more like what Jeb Bush has in mind – creating what has never existed in American politics, yet is inherently American rather than British.
A first step might be to find a name more suitable than shadow government, which connotes lurking, which in turn connotes conspiring behind the public’s back. That can’t be what’s in the mind of the former governor, whose career has been devoted to opening government to public scrutiny and participation.
It is a compelling challenge of momentous magnitude. Time is running short.
John L. Perry, a prize-winning newspaper editor and writer who served on White House staffs of two presidents, is a regular columnist for Newsmax.com. Read John Perry's columns here.
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