If the sleepy R.Van Winkle had nodded off sometime in the 19th century and jolted awake last June, he’d have arisen in his Catskill mountains to learn there was something funnier going on these days than a Bronx one-liner. In fact, he’d be getting up just in time to catch one of the most diverting turnabouts in years.

Van Winkle just might be agog to see the Republicans down in Washington. Some of them are beginning to ape the very behavior they so long allegedly despised in Democrats.

For twice the time of a Van Winkle-size snooze, the Grand Old Party (GOP) has been railing against the very idea that “Washington knows best.”

“Who do they think they are to hand down these federal edicts and unfunded mandates?” the GOP used to growl. “Why can’t the Washington Establishment have some faith in the wisdom of the common man?” (Yes, yes—they learned to append “and woman,” but that was later.)

When it comes to Confederate flags and capital punishment, decisions are the divine right of states. When it’s vouchers and prayers around the flagpole, nothing is so pleasing as the judgment of the hoi polloi.

“Let the local taxpayers decide,” was once the shout from the Republican side of the aisle.

But on June 27, in the well of the U.S. Senate, such stentorian admonishments faded into silence, just another GOM (Grand Old Memory) gone glimmering.

On that day, as we report on Page One, every Republican and all but five Democrats (three opposed and two absent) voted to impose the will of Washington on every U.S. school district and library accepting eRate funding (and that would be about 82 percent of them, according to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the author of this unfunded federal mandate).

Under the McCain amendment, every eRate-aided school and library would be required to install internet filtering technology to restrict children’s access to pornography and other obscene material on line. Filtering technology is enthusiastically embraced in some local schools and viewed with concern in others. Regardless of your view, the costs of an undifferentiated filtering edict from Washington could be staggering—a boon to filter makers perhaps, but devastating for many hard-pressed schools.

Fortunately, an alternative amendment arose at the eleventh hour. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., introduced a counter-measure that would preserve at least a patina of local control. His amendment would permit schools and libraries to substitute acceptable-use policies for internet filtering technology.

The Santorum amendment—should it ultimately take effect—could save the GOP from becoming the very thing it’s supposed to loathe. Reason: approximately 87 percent of internet-using schools are believed to have acceptable-use policies in place already. So in real life, the effect of the Santorum amendment would be to completely neutralize the McCain amendment.

That’s not how Santorum explained it on the Senate floor, however: “We keep [McCain’s] amendment in place as a hammer” against those schools and libraries that fail to adopt an acceptable-use policy.

Translation: “Washington knows best.”

For the pure populist, a policy rammed down from on high sticks in the craw just as surely as an unfunded mandate—although it’s a whole lot cheaper.

So, for genuine GOP advocates of local control, passage of even the Santorum amendment might be a source of self-inflicted pain.

If you’ve been up in the Catskills like Mr. Van Winkle, that just might remind you of the old one-liner.

This guy walks into his doctor’s office, see. He swings his arm back and forth like this, and grits his teeth. “Doctor,” he says, “it hoits when I do dat.”

“It hoits when you do dat?” asks the doctor.

“Yeah,” says the man.

“Don’t do dat!”

Somebody might want to give congressional Republicans the same advice—before they really hoit us all.