Back in 1994, Republicans took over control of Congress on the strength of the "Contract With America."
At least, that's what popular history says. According to analysis after the elections, what actually happened is that Republicans were able to win a congressional majority not so much because of what the GOP was proposing, but because voters were repulsed by some of the early, far-left initiatives of the Clinton administration (gays in the military, Hillarycare).
The GOP already stands to gain significantly this year because of the languishing economy and voters' increasing dislike for the congressional majority, which happens to be Democratic. They should also be able to capitalize on the growing sense of buyer's remorse from voters who elected President Barack Obama.
But since everything old is new again - like, say, gays in the military and Obamacare - the Republicans are dusting off the "Contract" playbook and bringing it into the Internet age.
They've launched "America Speaking Out," a Web site (americaspeakingout.com) that they hope to use to attract ideas from all over the country. Those ideas would then become part of a new set of governing guidelines for Republicans.
The Web site requires registration to use all its tools, but even without signing up it's interesting to check out. Visitors can click on four broad categories - "American Prosperity," "Fiscal Accountability," "American Values" or "National Security" - or pick another topic in the "Open Mic" section.
They can then post their own ideas for how they'd like to see Republicans govern, or comment on other visitors' ideas.
It's an intriguing concept. But to paraphrase the old joke, it is going to take a lot of digging through piles of manure to find that hidden pony.
Anyone who has read the comments sections of online news stories and opinion pieces knows that even the most innocuous ideas all too often deteriorate into pointless arguments from anonymous posters hiding behind their keyboards.
As a result, the person who has the job of compiling the Republican Web site's information into a useful document will have a huge, thankless job on his or her hands.
Meanwhile, as part of the process, Republican lawmakers also are fanning out across the country to solicit comments for the America Speaking Out strategy.
U.S. Rep. Paul Broun will be here at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Jabez Sanford Hardin Performing Arts Center to hold a "listening town hall" meeting.
According to an announcement from his office, Broun "Will listen to ideas from 10th District residents and demonstrate how they can participate throughout the year as issues or events unfold." (I'm guessing they'll also be providing information on americaspeakingout.com.)
"For too long, Washington has crafted public policy behind closed doors," Broun's announcement said. "Before Congress drafts a plan for the next Congress, it is critical that we hear from the American people to ensure the agenda for America reflects the priority of everyday citizens."
That's a great idea, one the Republicans spectacularly ignored the last time they were in charge. And looky where we are now.
Hopefully, the face-down-in-the-mud feeling they've gotten from having Obama and the Democrats walk over them in Congress en route to trampling the country has awakened them to the importance of listening to their constituents.
Likewise, polls show those constituents are ready to give the current congressional majority the same boot they used on them back in '94.
It worked then, and should kick just fine now. Then it'll be up to the Republicans not to screw it up again "or the shoe will be on the other foot.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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