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The Republicans in Congress are not themselves. In drafting articles of
impeachment, they seem to be eschewing media intimidation, phony polls, and establishment consternation, to actually do the right thing. Let’s enjoy it
while it lasts, which it probably won’t.
The sudden switch, after four years of betraying the voters who put them
there, cries out for explanation. It so happens that one is ready at hand:
Newt Gingrich no longer controls the House. Hence, he can no longer keep a
lid on the passions of many younger legislators who think the Constitution
should not be entirely ignored in the process of government.
What a relief it must be to be free of Gingrich’s iron hand. For principled Republicans, it’s been four years of captivity. Turn back the clock to October 1994, when Newt and his pollsters put together the “Contract With America” plot. The media described its ten points as alarming and
reactionary. Actually, it was thoroughly conventional in every respect, and
in some ways actually contrary to the ideas discussed in local campaigns.
The national media focused on it, but in fact, the Contract didn’t figure
strongly in House elections. The candidates that year were campaigning on,
and won on, radical themes of obliterating government and devolving power
to the states.
But the newly elected Congress was filled with naive young pups who were
tricked into thinking that Newt was responsible for the congressional takeover, when it was actually their radical campaigns. What Newt in fact
did was nationalize and thus compromise the GOP message, shifting it away
from revolution and local rights and toward centralization and policy wonkery.
Instead of destroying bureaucracies, Newt spoke of the presidency-enhancing line-item veto. Instead of abolishing departments, he spoke of reforming them. Instead of slashing taxes, he spoke of fixing flaws in the tax code. The Contract was an ideological failure to boot; it made no difference in the lives of average Americans.
The public soon discovered that congressional duplicity and profligacy
knew no party bounds. In the last days of the 103rd Congress, Newt plotted the passage of NAFTA, one of the worst debacles in the history of American
trade policy. Riddled with regulatory strictures and Mexican lines of credit
(later flowing into a full-scale bailout), NAFTA’s passage was made possible only through the worst form of D.C. graft.
After that, it was clear to close observers that the revolution had been
betrayed even before the 104th Congress was seated. But the freshman class was too busy celebrating back home to notice Newt’s fingerprints on NAFTA. In January, against the advice of many, they made the fateful decision to install this life-long Rockefeller Republican as the general in their war
Newt saw his first job as reining in the freshmen radicals, who were begging to vote on tax cuts. He told them they would get their chance just
as soon the much-ballyhooed Contract passed. To do so, he manufactured a
series of votes to centralize all power in the hands of the Speaker. The
freshmen believed they were doing the right thing; in fact, they were tying
the rope from which they would eventually hang.
Once the Contract nonsense was out of the way, what remained of the momentum was diverted by a sudden but deliberate anti-deficit hysteria on
the part of the new leadership. Newt and his cronies now claimed that taxes
couldn’t be cut because the deficit had to be reduced. Large tax cuts were
off the agenda and haven’t been on it, in any serious way, ever since.
The rest of Newt’s speakership has been characterized by one betrayal
after another. The list includes the approval of the World Trade Organization,
the welfare-reform fraud, the agriculture-reform fraud, the hike in the minimum wage, the increase in spending, the imposition of trade sanctions, the refusal to cut any important bureaucracy, the junking of the 10th
Amendment, the failure to repeal Clinton’s gun controls, the jingoism backing
Clinton’s foreign bombings and embargoes, the non-investigation of federal police brutality, the funding of the IMF, and much, much more.
As for the recent electoral failure, recall that the GOP, under Newt’s
leadership, passed the largest and, quite possibly, the most egregious budget deal in U.S. history, two weeks before the election. It was that final act of betrayal, more than any other, that caused voters to flee this
As Speaker, Newt was worse than ineffective. He dumped the opportunity to
restore freedom as the watchword of American politics. That’s why he was
ousted as Speaker. As Gingrich himself said, in bitter phone calls the day
before he hit the road, the firebrands were fed up with him.
With Newt out of the way, the dam broke and waves of pent-up bitterness
came crashing down. In a matter of weeks, the GOP had taken impeachment from political death to a living and glorious reality. It provides just a hint
of what might have been, had the Republicans not been saddled with this con