Newt Gingrich: Demonized til he
gave up? A Democrat success!
Gingrich's Smaller Government,
Less Spending Mantra Gone from GOP Playbook
[May 18, 2004 evote.com]
At what first
appeared to be a routine press conference back in 1995, Newt Gingrich
opened his mouth and dropped a bomb on the House. He had asked Price
Waterhouse to audit the congressional books. And the prestigious
international accounting firm had come back with the conclusion that the
financial records of the Congress of the United States of America were
so bad that they were “unauditable”.
But Gingrich, who
originated the audit in an attempt to bring discipline and
accountability to Congress, would be the ultimate victim of this tempest
in a teapot. And in this incident, as in many others, Gingrich displayed
the power of his incredibly brilliant mind and tenacious political
skills butting against his almost Shakespearean talent for
Now, five years after
Gingrich exited the House, the GOP faces a crossroads -- continue down a
path that will lead them squarely away from the Gingrich revolution of
the 1990s, or turn back to Gingrich's message of smaller-is-better
The GOP's choices – and
their perception by the voting public -- will have profound effects on
Election 2004 -- and will determine if the GOP continues to control the
House, and preserves gains in the Senate. And it may even decide whether
George W. Bush follows his father onto the lists of one-term presidents.
God to Goon, Courtesy of Scandals and Democrats
Gingrich was at the forefront of the ‘smaller government, less spending’
movement in 1996, but had some trouble getting his issues across to
voters. It didn’t help that the former professor’s speaking style
featured ideologically loaded lectures, hard to package for news. Aides
and spinners worked overtime trying to condense Gingrichese into
soundbites, but all it took was a smooth Clinton response to turn the
news tide against Gingrich.
Republicans in election
1996 followed the Gingrich mantra closely, but the man’s troubles (a
Murdoch book scandal, the GOPAC scandal and multiple highly publicized
extramarital affairs to name a few) began to drag him down. Gingrich’s
Republican colleagues went from worshipful to wary.
Even long after Newt
‘retired’, Democrats kept at it. The DNC machine demonized Gingrich the
man anytime a Republican dared mention an unattributed Gingrich ideal.
It worked. During election 2000, the specter of Gingrich would even be
used by Bill Bradley to attack fellow democrat, Al Gore.
In 2004, the ‘smaller
government’ message previously espoused by Gingrich is now utterly gone,
the GOP having been cowed by a highly effective Democratic smear
campaign. The ghost of Gingrich still haunts Republican efforts at issue
discussion. And the GOP would dearly love to engage in issue discussion
as Iraq turns sour for Bush.
Big Government is Back
Big government is back with a vengeance, even among Republicans who used
to spout small government rhetoric.
After the Republicans
gained control of Congress in 1994 they supported reducing wasteful
spending and eliminating the deficit. And for several years they pursued
a policy of balancing the budget and curtailing spending somewhat.
The deluge of 1990s
technology tax money and the balanced budget of the late 1990s created a
spendthrift mindset among most congressmen, including Republicans. The
bounty spurred a high rate of spending that continues today and is a
significant reason for America’s return to massive budget deficits.
Even though the
Republicans now control both houses of Congress, the White House and the
Supreme Court, the government is growing like a sedentary kid hooked on
chocolate. Not a single department, major agency or big government
program has been dismantled. Indeed, they have added one; the Department
of Homeland Security.
The Republicans are
ironically to blame for today’s huge budget deficits, as they head the
committees, mostly set the agenda and steer the American ship.
Newt Gingrich got to appear as
himself on the sitcom Murphy Brown early in 1996.
Newt’s conservatism was anti-Washington. The thinking was that the
federal government was unaware of the concerns of most Americans and
that its chief product, big government, influenced their lives
negatively. Gingrich saw Washington as not legitimate and its many years
of corrupt arrogant one-party Democratic control and liberal policy to
be important ingredients to conservative change.
conservative flavor helped pass bills by uniting the conservatives.
Whatever particular issue a conservative congressman deemed important,
more government was not the solution and was probably adding to the
problem. Those who supported big government were most likely Democrats,
according to Gingrich.
That might have been true
in the mid 1990’s, but today big government can be found in the White
Big Government, Bush Style
According to Bush’s fiscal year 2005 budget, total federal outlays will
rise 29 percent between fiscal years 2001 and 2005. Real discretionary
spending increases in 2002, 2003 and 2004 are three of the five biggest
annual increases in the last 40 years. The U.S. Treasury recently
announced the federal debt subject to congressional limits has for the
first time surpassed $7 trillion. Estimates for the annual budget
deficits for the next few years are between $15 and $70 billion.
Granted; defense spending
has increased with the war on terror, but the “compassionate
conservative” Bush has made little effort to restrain non-defense
spending such as on education with the No Child Left Behind Act, an
upwards of $400 billion Medicare bill (the largest new entitlement
program in 40 years) and farm subsidies to offset the higher Pentagon
budget. Non-defense discretionary outlays will increase about 36 percent
during his first term.
Newt Gingrich pissed off some
important figures in Congress in his day by dismantling the
power structure of long held committee seats.
When the GOP Lost
Fiscal Restraint, It Lost the Edge That Won Them the House
Perhaps George Wallace, who ran as a third-party presidential candidate
in 1968, was correct when he declared that “there isn’t a dime’s worth
of difference” between the Democrats and Republicans. (A nickel might be
more like it.)
And this Bush fiscal
liberalism is a rejection of Gingrich’s policies.
“Right now Bush does not
have as high a priority on fiscal restraint as Newt did back” when he
was Speaker, says Blankley, the former Gingrich aid. “Newt is tougher
than Bush” on fiscal restraint. “He slowed the increase in government
But Gingrich did indeed
support last year’s Medicare bill from his Senior Fellow position at a
Washington D.C. think tank called the American Enterprise Institute for
Public Policy Research. It expands prescription drug benefits to seniors
and is the biggest expansion of government health benefits since the
1960s Great Society. Blankley says Gingrich did so in part because of
the bill’s market-based health care components.
Again, it is Gingrich and
Republican Party Parties Hearty in the
House with Increased Spending
David Boaz, Executive Vice President of Washington, D.C.’s Cato
Institute, a non-profit public policy research foundation, tells
EVOTE.COM higher spending by Republicans today is a result of their
electoral success in controlling congress and the presidency. “Partisan
gridlock is the reason for the fiscal restraint under Clinton.”
Once the government was
unified, according to Boaz, the Republicans “found it easier to spend
money on government programs because they could agree on what to spend
money on. More bills get passed and more programs appropriated because
they are all in the same party. Bush has not vetoed a single bill which
may be unprecedented.
The recent spending
explosion under the unified Republican government is the fastest since
(the time of 1960s Democratic President Lyndon Baines) Johnson. Now that
we can look back, there would be less spending with Clinton and a
Republican Congress that there is with Bush and a Republican Congress.
Bush is a big government conservative. He is a fiscal liberal.”
“In a democracy, it is
always attractive to hand out money,” says Boaz. “It is the way to get
And more spending and
programs also increases power and control for the elected officials of
all parties, an instinctual desire some elected officials cannot resist.
Gingrich Blazes Onto the Scene
In the 1990’s the time finally came for the self-privileged pols to
beware because Newt had arrived with the determination of an Iberian war
horse; a Pennsylvania-born man who spoke ideologically and with vision,
raised by a career military father.
Gingrich became the first
speaker in many years, perhaps the only speaker, to vehemently fight
against the lethargy and status quo of so many of America’s
Packard-driving politicians and wasteful government agencies.
demolished several age-old congressional perks with glee, including the
cashiering of congressional “doorkeepers” who had “earned” their “jobs”
through patronage and also eliminated the oh-so-important ice buckets
that appeared in front of each House office’s door every morning. How
could they possibly make cuts such as these?
The cuts were spurred by
Gingrich himself, who ran an anti-government campaign that appealed to
many outside of Washington. And it didn't hurt that, after decades out
of power, the GOP was finally able to take its revenge for all of the
petty slights and cronyism that the Democrats had visited upon them.
Payback was both sweet, politically popular, and a whole heck of a lot
The ‘Republican Revolution’ Begins an Era
of Party Strength
As architect of the Contract With America, he launched a renaissance.
Gingrich was the primary theorist, chief tactician and strategist, and
primary mouthpiece of the activist Republican Party that manifested
itself in 1994 as the “Republican Revolution.”
A new era of GOP strength
began, a belief the Republican Party could run the country and not just
brake the excesses of the Democrats, just as it had with Mark Hanna and
the building of the post-1896 era of Republican majority.
Gingrich could not
completely speed up the stagnant ways of the U.S. government to the
level of the corporate world, which is probably impossible, but he could
be the first politician in America’s history to accomplish so much in
making government more responsive to contemporary needs.
Former Speaker Jim Wright (D-TX)
whose ultimate destruction as Speaker began in 1988 when an
ambitious Newt Gingrich charged him with ethics infractions.
The Audit from
Hell: It’s a Newt Congress
After Gingrich first became speaker in 1995 at the age of 51 he did
something no speaker, it is claimed, had ever done since the country’s
founding--and no chief executive officer of any public company would
ever consider not doing (it is the law)--he simply engaged an
independent accounting firm to audit the $800 million annual budget of
the House of Representatives. And man, what an audit it was!
For Price Waterhouse &
Co., among the world’s preeminent firms at the time, it should have been
a simple assignment: provide an audit as they have done for so many
companies before. But this became the audit from hell, or so it was
effectively stated in the July, 1995 press conference.
House Financials Shown to be FUBAR
The financial records of the United States House of Representatives were
so screwed up, so incomplete, such a bloody corrupt mess that PW was
forced to tell Gingrich that the House’s books were incapable of being
audited. The PW report stated the House’s records were so unreliable
that “an opinion of any sort" on its finances was impossible.
Price Waterhouse called
Congress “one of the worst-run organizations ever reviewed in the
history of the company.” It was said the ledger books had changed little
from the days of the Continental Congress and there were no certified
public accountants on the House staff.
Had Congress been a
company, its CEO would have been burned alive. But conversely, years
later, sanctimonious politicians of every political stripe boldly
stepped out of their golf carts to loudly condemn the accounting
scandals of Arthur Anderson, Enron and WorldCom, yet they themselves
probably abused the public’s money for at least decades and are largely
hypocritically taciturn about their own bookkeeping scandal.
It took The Passion of
Gingrich to balance the House’s books.
Powell, Dole, Kemp: Who's missing?
In election 1996 Dole and Kemp ran on a platform that was
largely based on Gingrich ideals. The link to Gingrich helped
the Democrats take this team down.
A GOP Majority,
Courtesy of The Contract With America
The Contract With America, a host of issues the Republicans promised to
be voted on within the first 100 days of the new 1995 Congress in a vein
similar to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first administration,
included items Republicans never believed they could pass even during
the Reagan years.
Indeed, it was Gingrich’s
Contract With America in 1994 that led the GOP that fall to capturing
the majority of the House for the first time in forty years, which they
have yet to relinquish. The Republicans over the years had often won the
presidency, but winning congressional seats was harder.
Issues So Popular, Everyone Wanted a
Thirteen issues pushed for by Gingrich during this revolutionary period
eventually became thirteen laws.
At the Democratic
National Convention, Gingrich perhaps received his greatest political
accolade when Democratic President Bill Clinton took credit for passing
13 Gingrich-supported bills during his 1996 Chicago acceptance speech.
And perhaps it was
Gingrich and the Republicans who also forced Clinton into supporting
welfare reform and the drive towards a balanced budget, two aspects of
his presidency viewed favorably by many Americans.
Gingrich's idealized official
House portrait made him the butt of jokes.
The Difference in
To understand just how much Gingrich accomplished, how different he was
from the big-bellied, don’t-give-a-damn attitude of many elected
officials, consider the Congressional Accountability Act passed by the
House on the very first day Gingrich became Speaker on January 23, 1995.
Accountability Act actually had the balls to require Congress to live
under many of the same federal laws they impose on the private sector,
such as those relating to employment discrimination, family and medical
leave, fair labor standards, occupational safety and health and
Americans with disabilities.
workaholic Gingrich had done something previously unthinkable in gaining
passage of the Magna Carta-esque bill. Many loved him for it, although
just as many others found reasons to hate him.
Republicans Shift, Ignoring the Gingrich
So what happened to the legacy of the polarizing figure of Newt
Gingrich, this oracle of Georgia? The legacy and effect of this 1995
Time Magazine “Man of the Year,” who so greatly affected the government
in the mid 1990s, is still significantly influencing government today.
But as Republican
priorities have changed and as the country has been altered by terrorism
and war, in some ways the country and his party have forgotten the
ideas, vision and ideals that brought Gingrich to the fore of American
political consciousness. Some say good riddance—but others seek a return
to the Gingrich juggernaut.
The most prominent
remaining effect of the Gingrich legacy is political, the winning of
Republican congressional seats, Tony Blankley tells EVOTE.COM. Blankley
is a former spokesman for the Speaker and is now the Editorial Page
Editor of the Washington Times. At the political level, his legacy is
“It was an earthquake. It
changed the political dynamics of the country. It is a major hunk of
political history. It is hard to imagine (George) Bush winning the 2000
election” without Gingrich, said Blankley.
Today, Republicans have a
plurality of members in both houses of Congress too, giving them an
advantage in passing bills. Most state governments are also Republican
controlled. This electoral success gives the Republicans more control in
setting the political agenda. “The American Association of Retired
Persons is now doing business with the Republicans,” says Blankley.
The former Mrs. Gingrich and the
current Mrs. Clinton could probably have one hell of a Newtie
bitch session, both having been married to unfaithful spouses.
Gingrich Had Made
Enemies of Powerful Figures
Gingrich’s political effect goes beyond Republican electoral success
because he revamped the House’s committee structure. He got rid of many
of the old bulls who chaired the committees, which in turn made some of
them angry with Gingrich, says Blankley. “They had their power taken
away. He was stepping on toes.”
David W. Brady, a
political scientist at Stanford University, has said that by limiting
the speaker and committee chairmen to six-year terms and cutting
committee staff by one-third, the GOP significantly opened up a House
that had long been dominated by a handful of powerful lawmakers.
"It made the House more
democratic, less hierarchical and less dominated by the old bulls," said
Brady, who also teaches at Stanford's business school. "It would be
hard, if Democrats came back in, to go back to the old seniority
The World According to Gingrich Brought
Bounty and Blame
It was not only Gingrich’s political career that perhaps came to a
sudden end after the surprising congressional losses in the November
1998 elections, when he left Congress and the speakership. It was a
theory of history, too.
It could be called the
world according to Gingrich, as he was its primary proponent, teacher
and public persona. But it was not his theory of history in particular.
The theory belonged primarily to his abundance of supporters, and not
just Republicans inside the beltway but everyone who savored the
election results four years before. His and their doctrine was that of
progressive Republicanism, a new driving ideological agenda.
personified this doctrine of Republican progress which was populist,
conservative, ideological, and triumphalist in character.
Granted, by 1998 when his
political career ended many of his supporters had turned on him because
of the 1996 government shutdown, the viciously successful Democratic
attacks and blame for that years’ disappointing congressional elections,
among other reasons. Newt had been tied to the whipping post and accused
of every evil proposal one could imagine. Some Republicans actually
shied away from the words, “Republican Revolution.”
Democrats Begin the Deconstruction of
During the 1996 presidential campaign between Bob Dole and Bill Clinton,
the Democrats ran thousands of ads that Gingrich said were “factually
false.” The ads said that if Dole was elected and Gingrich ran congress,
then Medicare, education, and student loans would be slashed and
interest rates will soar. This was the era of ‘wither on the vine’.
It was a blatant lie,
Republicans said, and attempt to scare elderly voters about Medicare –
and ultimately, a very successful spin for Democrats. Gingrich never
actually wanted to cut Medicare or student loans. The GOP simply wanted
to reduce the rate of their increase in spending.
That means the money
spent on the programs in question would continue to increase. And
Gingrich does not set interest rates, something done mostly by
private-sector banks and the Federal Reserve Bank which operates with
little, if any, influence by Congress.
Media handling can be
crucial for electoral success. Make the other guy or party seem bad has
been an effective American campaign strategy since the country’s
founding. And the Democrats did it right with Newt Gingrich.
Newt Gingrich, packing to leave
his office. Major news media even ran footage of Newt taking
out the garbage at home, to paint him as a frustrated retiree.
Demonization a Handy Tool for Democrats
Hillary Clinton discovered that an effective tool to smash her
Republican senatorial opponent, New York Congressman Rick Lazio, was to
refer to his links with the former Speaker. "He goes around calling
himself mainstream,” she reportedly said. “I guess his service as a
deputy whip to Newt Gingrich is considered mainstream."
Al Gore found some
Gingrich fodder in election 2000 when he said Bush supported the "the
Newt Gingrich plan that former Speaker Gingrich said would cause
Medicare to wither on the vine,” Continuing this effective line of
attack, Gore noted that he “fought against that plan even when Newt
Gingrich shut the government down twice.''
Even Bill Bradley used
Gingrich against Gore in the election 2000 cycle. Bradley recalled
Clinton's 1995 handshake in New Hampshire with then-House Speaker Newt
Gingrich, suggesting the Contract with America was really a silent
agreement between Clinton/Gore and Gingrich to ensure the status quo.
"Behind every public
handshake on this issue, there has always been a secret handshake ... an
agreement among politicians not to upset a system that they use to their
advantage," Bradley said.
Even in Election 2004, Gingrich is a
Presidential candidate Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-MO), a decade since the
Republican revolution, also threw a bit of Gingrich into the fire. In
attacking Howard Dean last September, at the time his leading rival,
Gephardt said the former Governor Dean sided with Gingrich to scale back
and change the Medicare program in the mid-1990s.
Not to be unrivaled by
his rival in attacking Gingrich, Dean retorted, according to published
reports, “It is a sad day for Dick Gephardt when he compares any
Democratic candidate running for President to Newt Gingrich and his
divisive policies. No Democrat in the presidential race bears any
resemblance to Newt Gingrich on any major issue. And for Dick Gephardt
to suggest otherwise is simply beyond the pale.”
Yet Gingrich Still Supports Republicans
and the Diminished Message
Despite Bush’s fiscal liberalism, Gingrich is still of course a strong
supporter of the Republicans winning the presidency. Speaking before the
Republican National Committee last October (before Kerry became the
presumed nominee), Gingrich said the election will be much bigger than a
choice of personalities.
In his eyes, the 2004
election will be a clear choice between two distinct futures for
America. These two futures are a reflection of very different
philosophies, values, and interest, including:
which for the GOP includes cutting taxes and encouraging private
• The Republicans are more inclined than the Democrats to create
incentives and opportunities for personal savings accounts for
Social Security and personal long term care insurance.
•To avoid Democratic efforts for “America to slide into a centrally
controlled, bureaucratic system of government-run healthcare with
[John Pike is a
veteran freelance journalist based in Boston. His articles have appeared
in numerous magazines, newspapers and wire services, including the
Boston Globe, Reason and Insight Magazines. He has seen the Republican
agenda change so many times he no longer has any idea what they stand
for and is seeking psychiatric help for his confusion. ]