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NEWT GINGRICH'S CONTRACT WITH AMERICA, 1994
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 After the Persian Gulf War, when President Bush had 91 percent approval ratings, it appeared possible that the Democrat party might become obsolete, like the Whigs of the 19th Century. Events of 1992 changed that perception, but in 1994 the viability of the Democrats, and the relevance of Clinton, again became an issue. The Republicans swept to revolutionary victories in 1994. Now, a decade later, the 1994 campaign can be seen not as the final step, but one in a series of gradual steps, towards what is an increasingly inevitable reality.

The political viability of the Democrat party can be traced to a single event, with subsequent events and elections appearing as harbingers of their potential doom. Everything in post-World War II American politics can be traced to before and after the Vietnamese Tet Offensive of 1968.

This was obviously not the only "turning point." In the 20th Century, Theodore Roosevelt did much to build up and tear down the Republicans. Much of his good work was destroyed when he split the party in 1912, forming the Bull Moose ticket that upended William Howard Taft and gave the White House to Woodrow Wilson. If my theory has any validity - that Kaiser's Germany waited until a pacifist Democrat was the American President before embarking on war in France - then T.R.'s legacy is further tarnished.

The 1929 "Black Monday" stock market collapse created in the mindset of the American people an image of the Republicans as being uncaring, greedy, country club elitists who sacrificed the working man. While Dwight Eisenhower led the party back to the White House 33 years later, this image has been burned into many people's minds to this day by Democrats.

Two issues resonated within a few years of each other. The Alger Hiss case and McCarthyism creating the modern "politics of personal destruction" that poisons campaign methods. However, both events had dilutory effects over the immediate years that followed. Instead of creating an anti-Communist Democrat party, the result was the opposite. With Adlai Stevenson twice defeated, the Democrats succeeded with two hawks, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. In Johnson's case, particularly, he felt the need to take a strong stand against Communism in part to dissuade Republican complaints from the McCarthy years that his party was "soft on Communism." In this respect, the Hiss and McCarthy events could arguably be viewed as forcing the Democrats into taking up with a winning issue.

But the Democrats are not a party of resolve. In 1964, LBJ won a complete victory, but by 1966 the Republicans were chipping away at his agenda with impressive mid-term victories. In 1968, the riots in Chicago exposed a fissure in the party, which was split between the traditionalists and the Robert Kennedy wing of anti-war liberals.

The Tet Offensive, which was a series of military failures on the part of the Viet Cong, served to break the Democrats. It turned them into a party of doves. This fact has led them further and further towards eventual oblivion. The immediate effect looked like victory, but circumstances changed. They have never been the same since.

After Tet, Eugene McCarthy scored a near-upset over LBJ in New Hampshire. LBJ then announced he would not seek re-election. Kennedy looked to be the front-runner until his death. RFK's passing can be viewed two ways, in terms of its political effect on his party. It appears his dovish anti-war stance was a winning one. However, his chances at winning the 1968 election were based more on his name and personal stature than his stance on the war. Eugene McCarthy would not have beaten Richard Nixon. While Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was hamstrung from speaking out against the President, it was fairly well established amongst the electorate that he wanted out of Vietnam. He still lost. Nixon's Silent Majority has proven to be the most powerful weapon in the G.O.P. arsenal. All the media carpings and loud critiques of Republicans have, time after time, been put down (to the continual amazement of liberals who "do not get it") by the Silent Majority.

The Democrats completely lost the South over the next four years, and in 1972 they completely lost the Presidency by 49 states to one. Their strategy is always to benefit from bad things happening to America, which occurred when they exploited Watergate to regain power in the late 1970s. However, they are their own worst enemies, since Democrats in office always remind the electorate that they are not worthy of being in office. The Carter years were a glaring example. The "Republican Revolution" of Goldwater became the Reagan Revolution. The Republicans were simply an inexorable force, striding forward as history's champions, albeit with little setbacks.

Nixon's defeat of McGovern in 1972 did not foretell an immediate break-up of the Democrat party, but it sure was a big blow. Had Watergate not occurred, the Democrats might have faced near-extinction by the 1980s.

The Reagan Revolution regained most of the lost momentum of the 1972 campaign. Considering Reagan's legacy; the economy, Cold War victory, and his Vice-President prosecuting the Persian Gulf War, 1992 could have been the death knell of the Democrats. The prospects in 1991 looked so good that a Bush re-election, complete with sweeping "coat-tails," seemed inevitable, but it did not happen in 1992. Instead, it happened in 1994. The "Republican Revolution" of that year led to further speculation that in 1996 Clinton would be voted out of office, and the continuing sweep of Republican triumphs would continue. Again, it did not happen as planned.

The Republicans faced setbacks in 1998, but managed to get a beachhead on history when George Bush was elected with a Republican majority in 2000. Since then, all momentum has been on the Republican side. The 2002 elections were a stirring, historical G.O.P. triumph, and the 2004 elections have the potential of being the greatest Republican sweep in electoral history. The Democrats truly could be exposed as a party without a future.

The Democrats have been "saved" by just Watergate and, in 1992, a combination of events that really had to test Republicans' faith in the cosmos. The economy took a turn for the worse at the most abominable possible time. George Bush campaigned like a stiff. Ross Perot derailed 10-15 percent of his votes. Bill Clinton proved to be one of the best campaigners of all time.

Two years later, Clinton was on the ropes in serious way after the Republicans swept to historic victories. It did not prove to be part of a massive, inexorable sweep to victory in 1996, when Bob Dole ran a worse campaign than Bush in '92. Heavy-handed Republican handling of the Lewinsky-Impeachment scandal derailed G.O.P. efforts in 1998. But 2000, 9/11 and the 2002 mid-terms have the Republicans poised to fulfill a mandate that, at various times, seemed to be in their grasp since 1972.             

The Democrats are again a party that may become something else; splintered into different groups of independents, liberals, moderates, and Greens, perhaps. However, this is by no means inevitable. Furthermore, the Democrats have waiting in the wings Hillary Rodham Clinton, a formidable contender with enormous resources at her disposal.

Getting back to 1994, the Clintons proved to be a lightning rod of criticism, the worst enemy of their party. Clinton is and was a great campaigner, but his skills are very selfish and personal. He had a terrific way of convincing voters to support him, but because of his poor character and terrible baggage, it became problematic for other Democrats to "coat-tail" him.

The economy had not made its big comeback by November of 1994. The Internet, or the "information superhighway," had debuted the previous year, but it was still an infant. The Clinton's record was shoddy. It included a bad "gays in the military" policy, a broken promise to not raise taxes, disaster at Waco, "Black Hawk down," and the elevation of the terrorist Yasser Arafat to statesman.

The Democrat Congress also experienced an extraordinary amount of bad press over the prior two years. A disastrous check-writing scandal had been revealed, in which Democrats had bounced numerous checks at the House bank, but not been held accountable for the fees and over-drafts.

In 1994, Republican Congressional leader Newt Gingrich emerged as one of the great political visionaries of all time. Gingrich, who represented the Atlanta suburbs, did not go on to the kind of career many envisioned for him. He proved to be argumentative and a source of controversy. Democrats have painted him as intolerant and hypocritical. A publicized affair he had that broke up his marriage worked against his credibility. However, as a leader, his strategy proved to a winning one.

Gingrich unveiled the "Contract with America," a simple set of promises that the Republicans made to the country if they would be elected as the majority party. Clinton and his Carville-led team of liars derisively referred to it as the "Contract on America." The proposals were staples of Republican philosophy; small government, de-regulation, lowering taxes, and a pro-business environment. Issues such as tort reform, illegal immigration and a popular call for term limits caught fire with the public. The Republicans swept to historic majorities in the House and Senate.

In California, Republicans swept into the majority in the state Senate and Assembly, re-elected Governor Pete Wilson, and ushered in Proposition 209, which was intended to reduce illegal immigration from Mexico, stopping the flow of public services for illegals already in the state.  

It was a complete repudiation of Clinton, who would have been defeated in a landslide had he been in the ballot. It proved to be part of a trend, but not a continuing, unstoppable one. The 1994 Republican victory made the Republicans overconfident.

The Democrats did manage to hold Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat in California. In 1995, Gingrich overplayed his hand in a budget battle with Clinton. The public sided with the President, and much of the momentum from November was lost. Later, the California Supreme Court overturned Proposition 209, and California Republicans in the post-Willie Brown era may have mangled their advantage as thoroughly as any political organization in modern history. By 1996 the economy was on the rise. Republican disappointment left many with the feeling that the gains of 1994 had been lost. To use the ironic words of Lenin, they took two steps back and one step forward, consistently beginning in 1964. The kind of seismic shifts entailed in America becoming a "Republican country" or a "conservative country" do not occur in single election years. Furthermore, it is an on-going battle. America is not Mexico, where the PRI was able to dominate through corruption for some 60-plus years.

What the 1994 elections did accomplish was to push Clinton to the middle. By acting more Republican, he governed better because of it. For all the rightful criticism that he deserves, he also deserves credit for doing this. It is true he pandered to the liberal wing of the Democrat party. If he has a heart and soul, somewhere deep down there he may just be a liberal. But he is also a Southern Democrat, honed in the tactics of Dixie politics.

 

 

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