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It was as if Moses himself had come thundering into Washington, his shiny brand-new Cadillac easily parting a group of curious onlookers. He spoke of the tantalizing lure of the "counterculture" versus the redemption of school prayer. He grimly warned of the perilous state of civilization--unless, of course, the country embraced his Ten Commandments, otherwise known as "Contract with America."
No, it wasn't the Parting of the Red Sea. It was Newt Gingrich.
And although Gingrich probably isn't as fit and trim as Moses, to hear him talk you'd think he was the Dictaphone of the Almighty himself. The white-haired man with a Southern accent and modest roots has swung into power as the first Republican Speaker of the House in forty years.
It's easy to be skeptical of someone who privately admitted to lobbyists that part of his campaign strategy was to portray Clinton Democrats as proponents of Stalinist measures. Yet Gingrich claims that he really wants nothing more than to work with the President--as long as the latter is willing to work with him to cut welfare, property taxes, and institute school prayer. And if the President doesn't? "I prefer to believe," Gingrich darkly informed The New York Times, "(that) this President, who is clearly quite smart, is quite capable of thinking clearly about a message sent by the American people."
Yes, Gingrich does have some grand plans, most of which right now seem to consist of driving around in his new car and signing autographs. But as soon as his initial euphoria wears off (or he totals his car), he's going to get straight to work. Part of Gingrich's work is teamwork. And he's got some grand plans there, as well.
In a futile attempt to show off his masculinity, Gingrich likened the position of Speaker of the House to a head coach. Previously, he confided to the media, he was more of an aggressive "middle linebacker" for the partisan minority. In Newt's Walter Mitty fantasy, that might just make Bob Dole quarterback. (He just needs to be careful about where he puts 91-year-old senator Strom Thurmond on the field--the man might have a coronary.)
Gingrich's swaggering bravado is easy to make fun of. But beneath all the quick jabs at the Clintons and the "liberal media elite" is something quite frightening. This is, after all, the man who claimed that the actions of Susan V. Smith, the young woman in South Carolina who was accused of drowning her two small children, would not have occurred under a Republican administration. This is the man who in 1984 questioned the patriotism of ten House Democrats when they wrote a letter to Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega calling for a peace settlement between warring factions. Gingrich accuses Clinton of "McGovernism". But under him, the country potentially faces a throwback to McCarthyism.
Perhaps even more frightening than Gingrich are his Republican peers in both the House and Senate. A study by People for the American Way found that 60 percent of the 600 candidates for national, state and local offices who were supported by religious conservatives won their elections.
In Congress, that potentially means, if not directly attempting to topple the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roc v. Wade, nonetheless limiting a woman's right to abortion. Entirely dismantling former President Johnson's Great Society social programs. And returning to the failed Reaganomics of the '80s.
All this under the leadership of our esteemed new House speaker, Newt Gingrich.
But then, what can you expect from a man named after a lizard?
Hallie Z. Levine's column appears on alternative Mondays
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