January 6, 1995 in City

Peering Into Eye Of The Newt Deal

William Safire, New York Times
 
Tags:column

Two years ago, amidst inaugural hoo-hah, the Clintonites puffed themselves up and lurched leftward. Now, reveling in quasi-inaugural media hype, the Newt Dealers are marching in the opposite direction in a state of similar certitude.

If conservatives are going to shrink government and expand individual freedom, we must first cut the hubris.

1. Battle of the Branches.

Hubris: After six decades of presidential domination, punctuated by periods of liberal judicial activism, the locus of American government power has at last shifted back where the Founders intended: to Congress, the branch closest to the people.

Reality: One year from now, Speaker Gingrich will be running for president on the theory that only from the White House can the nascent “Opportunity Society” be brought to four-year term. Never mind the exciting year of the new majority’s kept promises and the minority’s mounting resistance; the main event will not be the Congressional elections but the presidential election.

2. The Generational Ripoff.

Hubris: A resurgence of self-reliance, family responsibility and spiritual affirmation will break the shackles of welfarism that burden the taxpayer and demean the recipients.

Reality: Deficits are being caused far less by helping the poor than by the aged and elderly of all incomes ripping off the young and middle-aged.

Half a trillion of our federal budget goes for Social Security and Medicare, while the other halftrillion goes to defense and all other discretionary spending. Cutting the budget will require cutting the elderly’s half, but Clinton campaign demagoguery frightened off Newt Dealers drawing up their contract.

That’s why - by necessary stealth - they will have to build in tax incentives for families to take care of grandparents, make retirement accounts tax-free and otherwise reward the thrifty. It’s the only way to offset the future’s inevitable Social Security benefit restraints, but the hollering will be horrific.

3. Elitist-Populist Media Wars.

Hubris: The Gingrichies are going to get even with the nattering network nabobs and their taxpayer-subsidized elitist broadcasters by making a happy home in the Capitol for talk-show hosts who are local megaphones for the outraged voice of the people.

Reality: After the love feast is over, the persnickety populists are going to do what they do best - turn on the new Ins and howl “sellout.” And when “public” broadcasting is privatized, as it surely deserves to be, its programming will not disappear - but will attack the Establishment Right with some professional talent and with newly unbridled vigor.

4. The Great Elected-Electorate Divide.

Hubris: The changing of the Old Democratic guard in the House ends arrogant, corrupt oneparty rule and brings the new openness needed to restore the respect the voters once had for their representatives.

Reality: In this case, a little hubris is warranted. Although a representative’s staff remains bloated, committee staffs are cut, and term limits on chairmanships work against entrenchment.

While old pols took pot shots at the new rules adopted Wednesday, huffing about gifts from lobbyists, the Newt Dealers were stripping lobbyists of their most valuable asset: exclusive access to information. Opening committee meetings and putting all documents electronically on-line is breathtaking.

5. Partisan Struggle.

Hubris: Congress proposes, the president meekly opposes, Congress disposes - boyoboy, is slashing and burning going to be a hoot.

Reality: When the economy begins to slow for whatever reason, the Republican candidates outside Washington - Pete Wilson and Lamar Alexander - will blame insiders Gingrich and Sens. Dole and Gramm for botching the ‘94 mandate.

President Clinton, unless Whitewaterlogged, will get a centrist act together and fight back with vetomessage town meetings. Thumbsuckers panting to catch the political pendulum’s moment of changing momentum will then discern the newest Nouveau Neo-liberalism.

Right-wingers all: Resist the cult of personality. Turn the great ship slowly. Eschew pride.

xxxx


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email