The rout of the Democrats in the 1994 midterm elections was the most sweeping defeat at the congressional and gubernatorial levels that Democrats have suffered in the last half century. Almost every commentator sees it as a repudiation of the leadership of the Clinton White House. The president himself sees the election in these terms.
Since World War II, the average number of congressional seats lost at midterm by the party holding the presidency has been 26. This year the Democrats lost 52 seats in the House and nine in the Senate, including the switch of incumbent Alabama Sen. Richard C. Shelby from Democrat to Republican.
The Republicans now have a controlling majority in Congress, and many of them are the radical right-wing type characterized by the next House speaker, Newt Gingrich of Georgia. The combative Gingrich is a hard-core radical who attacks his political opponents with a slashing, no-holds-barred strategy.
True to form, Gingrich was in full battle cry the day after the election, hurling emotional terms that especially caught my attention because he used my name to underscore what he most opposes in American politics and in Bill Clinton. "Counterculture McGoverniks," he called the president and Mrs. Clinton, while describing the White House as a circle of "left-wing elitists."
I fully welcome the scorn of Gingrich. I have nothing but disdain toward this unscrupulous demagogue.
But it is worth taking a look at his charges.
I see myself not as a radical "counterculture" politician. Rather, I am a moderate, mainstream American liberal, who also embraces elements of conservatism. My four political models are Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. I regard all four of these great presidents as liberals who have also borrowed from the conservative tradition, as I have in the past.
I do not denigrate conservatism; indeed, my parents lived and died as politically conservative Republicans and Wesleyan Methodist religious fundamentalists. I have always honored my parents and their political and religious views.
As a student and teacher of U.S. history, I am steeped in the values of American culture and political ideals. I worked my way through school during the Great Depression while growing up in South Dakota. I volunteered for combat as a bomber pilot in World War II, and I flew 35 missions against the Nazis - winning the Distinguished Flying Cross. I then earned a Ph.D. in …