The Grinch's Gift

Article excerpt

Thank you, God, for Newt Gingrich. That's the prayer Washington Democrats whisper each night before ducking beneath their covers. Were it not for the pugnacious minority whip, the self-pitying Dems, facing an electoral stomping, would be without hope and without a clue. Throughout the summer, White House honchos, Democratic National Committee jefes and Congressional leadership havies stared dazedly at memos and charts predicting their losses: thirty, forty, fifty, sixty seats in the House--forty will turn Gingrich into the Speaker--and enough in the Senate to place Bob Dole and the G.O.P. in command (Al D'Amato chairing the banking committee; Jesse Helms controlling Foreign Relations; Orrin Hatch dictating Judiciary; Bob Packwood tending Finance). The most pathetic moans emanated from Democratic ranks: The economy is strong (by conventional measurements) and voters want us impaled--Why oh why? President Clinton's poor-me routine (I passed NAFTA, cut the deficit and took on the Haitian putschists, but I get no respect) was flopping. Concocted by pollster Stanley Greenberg, the strategy called for the maligned President to recite his achievements and await the appreciation of grateful voters. It wasn't working. Would-be voters told pollsters they didn't think Clinton had done much for them; many even doubted the deficit had been trimmed.

Then along came Gingrich. He brought scores of Republican candidates to the steps of the Capitol and had each initial his "Contract With America," a warmed-over stew of Reaganesque policy proposals--tax cuts, more military spending, the anti-choice gag rule. Aha! exclaimed the dejected Democrats. We have a target: Republicans who want to take us back to the 1980s--a time celebrated only in the seminar rooms of the Heritage Foundation. Moreover, Newt-o-nomics carries a trillion-dollar shortfall (over seven years) and threatens such popular programs as Social Security and Medicare. B.C.--Before Contract--Republicans challenging Democratic incumbents could run as anti-Washington crusaders and didn't have to defend a record of their own. Now Republicans are saddled with the Grinch's ugly baby. In Colorado, lawyer Bill Eggert was campaigning against Pat Schroeder with the slogan "Twenty-two years is enough." As someone who had never held office, Eggert was tough to nail. But once he inked the Contract, Schroeder zeroed in on Eggert's endorsement of voodoo economics II and proclaimed, "Twenty-two minutes of Eggert is enough."

"Gingrich didn't need to do anything," says one senior D.N.C. official. "If he had kept his mouth shut, the Republicans would have taken over both houses of Congress, no problem. The Contract was such a gift." Why would a clever fellow like Gingrich pull such a boner? Had he spent too much time listening to Washington pundits who decried his party's negativism (which, according to Democratic polls, didn't bother the voting public)? Had he become too giddy at the thought of moving into Tom Foley's office? Truth is, Gingrich is the Wile E. …