By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 3, 2010; 10:03 PM
Aggressively looking to distance themselves from their party's past, three top Republican House members have written a book that repeatedly criticizes former GOP leaders as well as President Obama but lays out few new details of how Republicans would govern if they were in charge.
In "Young Guns," scheduled for release Sept. 14, Reps. Eric Cantor (Va.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) cast the Republican congressional leaders who preceded them as a group that "betrayed its principles" and was plagued by "failures from high-profile ethics lapses to the inability to rein in spending or even slow the growth of government." Cantor specifically says Republicans became "arrogant and "out of touch."
"Under Republican leadership in the early 2000s, spending and government got out of control," McCarthy writes. "As government grew, there were scandals and political corruption. The focus became getting reelected rather than solving problems and addressing pressing issues."
The book is the latest attempt by GOP leaders to persuade voters their party has changed since it controlled Congress four years ago. Recent polls have suggested Republicans could make major gains in this fall's elections, but voters have broadly negative views of the party. According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 24 percent of people see the party positively, Republicans' lowest rating in the poll.
Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican, has been a leading figure in trying to rebrand the party, even though he was a party leader then as now. McCarthy is heavily involved in the House Republican campaign effort, while Ryan is one of the leading voices on policy in the GOP and would become the chairman of the budget committee if Republicans win control of the House in November.
The title of the book comes from a program Cantor, 47, and McCarthy, 45, have created to encourage young Republicans to run for office. Each congressman wrote individual chapters of the 190-page book.
House Republicans have said they will wait until later this month to detail their formal agenda, and the three men offer almost no new proposals. In his section, Ryan describes his controversial "Roadmap" proposal, which would radically overhaul the tax code, Social Security and Medicare.
Democrats have cast his plan as one that would shrink benefits to in entitlement programs but do little to reduce the deficit because he proposes to reduce corporate taxes and keep in place place tax cuts for families that make more than $250,000 a year.
"A key element of this agenda featured in the book . . . is the GOP proposal to privatize Social Security and end Medicare as we know it," the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a news release.
Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said, "Like the movie, the policy ideas by the 'young guns' are best left behind in the 80s," a reference to the 1988 movie of that name.
In the book "Young Guns," the trio's rhetoric against their own party is frequent, even as it is vague on identifying the actual culprits. Former House speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.), former majority leader Tom DeLay (Tex.) and former President George W. Bush are almost never named, even as the congressmen suggest the Republican Party must be recast from the Bush era. Obama and Pelosi, meanwhile, are blamed for problems in Washington on nearly every other page.
Cantor at one point says the president told him in a private meeting "elections have consequences," and "Eric, I won," in disagreeing with one of the congressman's ideas. He argues this illustrates Obama had "a big partisan streak." The president has frequently suggested Republican leaders have opposed his agenda purely on partisan grounds.
The book is in some ways similar to one written by then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) in 2006, when he was trying to help lead his party to control of the House. Neither book was written with the participation of the party's House leader - Pelosi in 2006, and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) this year.
And like Emanuel, now White House chief of staff , the three include some policy ideas, although many of them are vague promises to cut spending or do more "listening to the American people."
The timing of the release of "Young Guns" around this fall's elections could help raise the profile of these three Republicans, who have largely been overshadowed by figures such as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and conservative commentator Glenn Beck in the party's recent resurgence. The authors are not shy in suggesting they want to be viewed as power players in the party.
"As I traveled around the country in 2007, some Republican candidates were saying to me that the party had lost so much trust with the people that they didn't want the party leadership coming to their districts to campaign for them," McCarthy writes. "They were interested, however, in having rising Republican leaders like Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan come to their districts."