Not long ago, Bruce Chaffin was a throw-the-bums-out conservative. But he’s not cynical about politics anymore.
“It’s going to be wonderful,” said the 36-year-old sales executive here, almost giddy about the Republicans taking control of Congress this week. “You bet there’s going to be some changes, and I can’t wait.”
But Nicole Avrain wore a pained expression and confessed to a new fondness for term limits. “As a liberal, I’m nervous,” said the 24-year-old college student. “Real nervous.”
Whether they see the government becoming leaner, or just plain meaner, American voters of all stripes agree: the road ahead will veer to the right.
“Bill Clinton looks like a wet noodle,” said Deshawn Jones, a 31-year-old Denver actor, “and Newt Gingrich is going to swallow him.”
From the tobacco fields of rural Virginia to the sleek coffeehouses of San Francisco, and here in maverick Rocky Mountain country, a clear majority of Americans seem to be eager, even insistent, to see a Republican slash-and-burn attack on a federal bureaucracy that they say is bloated.
“Let’s see a reduction,” said Frank Scartozzi, 32, a of Tenafly, N.J. “We all have to manage our budgets; it’s time for Congress to manage theirs. This country has got to understand that nothing is on a silver platter.”
One issue, repeated so often that nothing else comes close, strikes a raw nerve with the American electorate: welfare. Most of the nearly 70 people interviewed over the weekend said that President Clinton had not delivered on his promise to rein in welfare costs, and that the Republicans seemed more likely to pursue hardnosed cuts.
“We’ve got to end the handout mentality in this country,” said Tom Raddemann, a 41-year-old computer consultant in Denver who offered himself as proof that government assistance can lead to sloth. “About eight years ago I collected unemployment, and man, I didn’t do a thing as long as it lasted. I just sat back, didn’t even look for work. But when that sucker ran dry, let me tell you, I got focused in a hurry.”
It was a sentiment that seemed to transcend class, race, sex and political affiliation, and it was usually delivered bluntly: The poor did not need a helping hand so much as they needed a swift kick in the pants.
To be sure, not all voters are ready to embrace Republicans’ welfare proposals, which include allowing states to abolish aid to young mothers. Nor do they all trust Rep. Newt Gingrich, the incoming House speaker.
In the view of John Sanford, a 44-year-old Chicagoan, Gingrich is “an absurd, crazy, anti-poor racist” who “probably believes that poor people should be deported from this country to another planet.”
But others said they found the Gingrich to be surprisingly affable, even charming.
“The way the media portray him,” said Janet Sherman, 46, a Denver homemaker, “you’d think he didn’t want to just start up orphanages, but burn them down, too.”
Jennifer Smith, 22, who works for a collection agency here, said the surest way for the Republicans to win the hearts of Americans will be through cuts in the tax code. And if the tax cuts do not go through, she added, the voters will discard the new team on Capitol Hill as surely as it dispatched the old crew.
“The mood of the public is pretty clear on taxes and welfare,” Smith said. “And if it goes ignored, they’re going to have a revolt on their hands.”