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"Where there is no vision, the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18)

Congressional Republicans appear to be playing a summer-stock repertoire of farce (defined as "a light dramatic composition marked by broadly satirical comedy and improbable plot").

Last week, what passes for the House "leadership" revealed its appalling weakness when a group of high-ranking members could not even engineer a coup in their own party. We already know the difficulty some Republican House members have had locating their spine in order to stand up to Democrats, especially President Clinton. Now these supposed "revolutionaries" have morphed into Keystone Kops. At least the cinematic cops were funny. Congressional Republicans are pathetic, and only Democrats are laughing.

Following last year's government shutdown, which President Clinton successfully blamed on Republicans, the GOP seemed to lose not only all sense of direction but also any sense of purpose. The House leadership decided its strategy would be not to make waves so it could boost its approval ratings. The trouble is, if you pursue popularity instead of policy objectives, you will achieve neither. Better to be disliked in the short term while refashioning government in a way that will bring future praise when the voters realize they have been taken for a very expensive ride by Democratic liberals.

Is it time for House Speaker Newt Gingrich to step aside or not? Those involved in the coup attempt are too timid to publicly say. Maybe all of them should resign their leadership posts, as Rep. Bill Paxon, R-Amherst, did with some dignity.

A self-described "disgruntled Republican" bought a full-page ad in the Washington Times charging congressional Republicans with making a "contract with the Democrats." Republicans will never be liked by the elites, including Democrats, so they should forget the polls, do the right thing and earn respect, which is often better than admiration.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the 20th-anniversary issue of Policy Review magazine arrived in the midst of the GOP turmoil. The cover story asks the right question: "Reagan Betrayed: Have Conservatives Fumbled His Legacy?"

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, says, "Leaders should keep their eyes on the goal and leave (talk of compromise) to their staffs. Conservatives should also remember Reagan's willingness to repeat his message -- over and over again."

Michael Reagan writes that "although my father is the one afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, I sometimes think the Republicans are suffering a much greater memory loss. They have forgotten Ronald Reagan's accomplishments -- and that is why we have lost so many of them." Son Reagan notes that while the tax burden grows, "the Republican leadership announced that significant tax cuts were 'off the table' and there would be no Republican agenda before the election of 2000."

Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, writes, "In May 1997, Republicans who knew and admired President Reagan, who called themselves conservatives and who were a part of his revolution, found themselves discussing how to rejigger the calculation of the Consumer Price Index and of projected economic growth so they could make a deal with a Democratic president to spend more money."

Former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick is succinct in her indictment of the gang that can't shoot straight: "Since the election, the Republican majority in the Congress sometimes seems more concerned with demonstrating that they can work with the White House than with legislating conservative principles. Ronald Reagan never preferred compromise to victory."

This Republican Congress does prefer compromise to victory. It has compromised Reagan's principles and deserves the loathing it is getting. Michigan Gov. John Engler has called for a GOP summit meeting to craft an agenda. When they come down from the mountain, what they present had better be etched on tablets of stone, not traced on a mound of sand. Otherwise, congressional Republicans will be handed their heads on a platter next year and they'll return to the status in which they apparently feel more comfortable: the minority.

Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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