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It is one of the most persistent yet least noted phenomena in
American politics. When politicians — and, for the most part, appointed
officials — leave office and return to the private or quasi-private
sector, their IQ almost invariably increases by 20 to 50 points.
I first became aware of the tendency as it related to Nixon
appointee Herb Stein, a venerable and often sensible economist who
touted wage and price controls while on the government payroll but
recovered most of his intelligence after ceasing to draw a paycheck
from the taxpayers. George Shultz, who regained a good deal of common
sense after leaving the Reagan administration, was another example.
Robert Reich and George Stephanopoulos (among numerous former Clinton
hench-persons) demonstrate that the phenomenon is no respecter of
Now it has happened to Newt Gingrich, who technically hasn’t even
ceased to be our humble and faithful servant but who in terms of
official power has been yesterday’s kitty litter for many yesterdays.
At a gathering of conservatives in Phoenix over the New Year —
second-thoughter and prime mover David Horowitz originally called it
the Dark Ages Weekend as a too-cute-by-half counterpoint to the
radical-chic Renaissance Weekend in Hilton Head but is trying to rename
it simply The Weekend — Mr. Gingrich unburdened himself of more common
sense and intelligence than he has mustered in several years.
The most important thing conservatives and Republicans can do in the
next year or so, said Mr. Gingrich, is to reposition themselves as the
party of tax cuts. He acknowledged his own strategic mistake in not
doing so last year: “We should have had a much bigger fight in the
spring over tax cuts and we should have stayed with the tax-cut message
all summer long and we should have unified the party by using brute
persistence,” said the Newtster, as reported by Katharine Seelye in
the New York Times.
Gingrich also urged his party, in essence, to lie low for the next
couple of years, at least in Congress, so it can regroup and develop
better strategies. “From the standpoint of the House and Senate,” he
said, “if we can adopt as our primary slogan, ‘Do no harm’ and simply
block liberal measures for two years and set the stage for a Republican
presidency, that is probably the most we can hope for, given the nature
of the current Washington environment.” With a mere six-vote margin in
the House, facing a president who has triumphed over impeachment (as
Mr. Gingrich and nearly everybody could have figured in early January)
that’s probably prudent if not especially inspiring counsel.
Of course, congressional Republicans, especially led by a speaker
universally described as a quintessential dealmaker, will probably
ignore the part about blocking liberal measures. Blocking them should
be easy since a Clinton administration, even one that has survived
impeachment, should be utterly discredited as a serious political or
policy factor. But never underestimate the proclivity of elected
Republicans to wimp out in pursuit of the vain hope that the
Inside-the-Beltway media will give them a break.
In a way, one can almost admire Bill Clinton’s effervescent
chutzpah, although the media’s compliance in dutifully publicizing his
one-a-day penny-ante policy initiatives just as if his presidency
hadn’t been in the midst of a dire crisis is somewhat less than
journalistically exemplary. The sensible approach to the
malefactor-in-chief would be to shame, shun and ignore him — act as if
he didn’t exist — but the media are so accustomed to revering the
presidency as the most sacred and essential of institutions that they
just can’t bring themselves to do so.
Since congressional Republicans are unlikely to muster enough
fortitude even to resist Clintonian initiatives, perhaps we should
equip them with a modest agenda. Here are a few things that just might
be possible even with a razor-thin majority.
Let the independent prosecutor law expire. Sure, it might be unfair
to Ken Starr. But if nodding in apparent agreement or even refusing to
rise to the bait during knee-jerk Starr-bashing is the price for
letting this silly law disappear, so be it.
Replace the campaign-finance laws with simple full disclosure. The
FEC in December announced that it wouldn’t fine either the Clinton or
the Dole campaigns for their violations and the Supreme Court has
reaffirmed its belief — accurate, by the way — that political spending
is tantamount to political speech. So the current laws are a dead
letter anyway, useful only for harassment. This one might not pass, but
it’s worthwhile putting the idea on the agenda.
Revise the sexual-harassment laws. Get rid of the
“hostile-environment” nonsense but make it clear that dropping your
drawers in front of a subordinate is not acceptable conduct.
As Jeremy Rabkin has suggested in the American Spectator, pass a law
making the attorney general’s term in office two years, subject to
re-ratification by the Senate after that period. This is within
Congress’ authority. After Jack Kennedy appointed his brother attorney
general, Congress passed a law forbidding subsequent presidents to
appoint close relatives to Cabinet posts.
And at least talk about cutting taxes — across-the-board, for people
of all income levels — again and again, even if you can’t get a tax cut
enacted for the president to veto.
That doesn’t sound like much and quite frankly it isn’t. But with a
divided government not much is possible anyway. If congressional
Republicans could accomplish that much in the next two years while
resisting most of the president’s bad ideas and explaining why, they
would make a better case for themselves to voters than they did over
the last two years.