An Offer Too Good to Refuse; Americans Put out a Contract on Big Government

Article excerpt

In the Spring of 1993, Policy Review predicted that "1994 will be the most important year in American politics since the 1980 race between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan." At least we got that one right.

"If the Democratic Party maintains its overwhelming majority in both Houses of Congress in 1994," Policy Review went on to say, "then the Reagan Revolution truly will be over, and the federal government will likely grow in size and intrustiveness into American life. If, however, the Republican Party makes substantial gains, then there is a good chance that the Clinton presidency will be just a temporary interruption in the downsizing of central government. These choices were muddied in 1992 because Mr. Clinton ran to the right of President Bush on many taxing and spending issues. In 1994, the choices will be clearer."

The choices certainly were clear in 1994, and so was the message of the voters. Thanks mostly to President Clinton's health care plan, but also to his crime bill, his tax increases, and his regulatory excesses, the party of the donkey was openly identified with liberalism and the cause of bigger government, especially in Washington. In sharp contrast, the party of the elephant stood more strongly for smaller government at all levels--federal, state, and local--than at any time in over a generation. When voters were given this clear choice, the result was an elephant stampede.

The magnitude of the GOP victory was a tribute to many of its leaders. To Bob Dole and the Senate Republicans, whose guerrilla warfare and united resistance to Clintonism blocked many of the administration's worst initiatives. To Haley Barbour, one of the greatest chairmen in Republican National Committee history, who brought his party back to conservative ideas and to Politics 101--grass-roots organizing and candidate recruitment. To governors such as Christie Whitman of New Jersey, John Engler of Michigan, and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, who showed, after the Bush Betrayal of 1990, that at least some Republicans keep their promises to cut taxes and reduce the size of government. The number of states with a Republican governor and GOP control of both houses of the legislature rose from three to 15, as voters took a gamble that Republican promises of tax and spending cuts were not simply the cynical political gestures they have often proved to be before.

Above all, the Republican sweep was a tribute to Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, and their Republican House colleagues, whose Contract With America did something the GOP should have done long ago--show clearly what difference it would make if Republicans instead of Democrats controlled the House. In Winter 1992, Policy Review asked then House Minority Leader Robert Michel to write an article on what House Republicans would do if they took charge. His only answer was congressional reform--cutting congressional staff, reforming internal House rules, applying to the House the same regulations the Congress applies to everyone else. Michel's answer, in short, was what Gingrich promised for Day One of Republican control. He left out the other 99 days!

What a difference new leadership made! The Gingrich-Armey contract made 41 pages of concrete promises to the American people on tax relief, a balanced budget amendment, welfare reform, crime control, defense readiness, and other leading issues. No one can deny that this is what the American people voted for: The Democrats spent millions publicizing the GOP Contract in what turned out to be one of the most issues-driven campaigns of recent decades.

SOLEMN OBLIGATION

The GOP Contract, though, was more than just a platform. It was a solemn obligation. It was the genius of Gingrich, Armey, and their House Republican colleagues to recognize that the American people want not only smaller government, they want accountability. The citizens are furious over broken promises--not only by Presidents Bush and Clinton but by most of the political class. …