Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich; drawing by David Levine


Struggle in the House: Barney and Newt

“The Republican party in the House is the most disciplined political party we have ever seen in the history of America… Newt Gingrich has greater power over the House than anyone has ever held before.”

That is Barney Frank speaking, the Massachusetts representative who has become the Democrats’ rhetorical standard-bearer in this time of defeat and confusion for his party.1 Moderate Republicans are afraid to break ranks. When Carrie Meek, the black representative from Florida, criticized Gingrich’s four-and-a-half-million dollar contract with a publishing company owned by Rupert Murdoch, the Republicans not only shut her up but struck her words from the record. Frank said they would never have treated the black former domestic this way in the past. After all, he says, “She looks like she just came from nursing Miss Scarlett,” though she is a shrewd user of that image. “Peter Torkildsen [Republican from Massachusetts] was quoted the next day in the Boston Globe saying, ‘I don’t think her remarks should have been stricken from the record’—but he voted that way.”

Frank says it is almost comic the way Republicans scurry to prove their loyalty to the party line. After moving to turn crime funds over to the states for discretionary use, some Republicans in the House wanted to show their support for favorite anti-crime devices; so they added amendments saying that the funds would allow matters “including but not limited to” drug education or to programs against domestic violence. These were meaningless because the discretionary power by definition included such things. Then Representative Pat Schroeder added that funds could be used to protect abortion clinics at the states’ discretion—again, something included implicitly. Even this meaningless move could not pass the ideological police: “Henry Hyde jumped all over them,” and the Republicans, who wanted to give the states discretion, noted that policing abortion clinics could not be expressly included in that discretion. Some of the moderates voting with Hyde are pro-choice themselves, but they could not let the words “abortion clinic” soil a Republican bill. “They are really taking orders,” Frank concludes.

In this climate, Frank always expected most of the Republicans’ Contract to pass. “After all, these are items they pre-selected, poll-tested, and figured would have the maximum appeal.” Even the things some Republicans hope will not pass—notably term limits—can be considered “passed” since they only promised to bring the matter to a vote. Frank says: “That is like a car salesman saying, ‘I didn’t make a contract to sell you a car, only to show you a car.’ ” Others are procedural: they say the budget will be balanced one day in the future, without saying how that will be done. It is like a person facing a diet by resolving, “I’ll weigh 150 pounds next year,” without saying what he will eat tomorrow. These things do nothing substantive about our problems now. The bill limiting unfunded mandates to the states does nothing for the states’ current burdens. It would not affect a single existing mandate. “Imagine a doctor,” Frank continues, “who tells you, ‘You’re very sick, I’ve never seen anything so bad. I can’t do anything about that. But if you get some future illness…’ “

The procedural reforms are ways of dodging the substantive issues, in Frank’s view. “The Republicans succeeded in convincing people that there are not tough problems to be faced. They said that we [in the Congress] only made problems because we are corrupt as an institution. Reform the institution, and the problems will go away.” Gingrich was the perfect man to lead such a charge, since he has always been most interested in procedures: “He is the least substantive major political figure I’ve ever seen. When I think of Henry Hyde, I think of abortion. When I think of Jack Kemp, I think of economic opportunity. When I think of most conservatives, something of content comes to mind. Even when I think of wacky Dornan, I think of his military views. But Gingrich in seventeen years has never got into substantive stuff. And, frankly, Democrats are having trouble working with him because he just knows so little about issues. If you do not understand the issues, you can’t predict people’s responses. He made a concession on setting up a commission to oversee enforcement on the Mexican loans, and his own people went berserk. He didn’t realize what it all meant in the context of NAFTA.”

Gingrich responds to such criticism by saying that Frank hates him for pushing an investigation of his 1989 scandal, when Frank, now openly gay, was sheltering a male prostitute, who conducted his sex-for-sale business (unbeknownst to Frank) out of the congressman’s basement. The House Ethics Committee reprimanded Frank for this behavior, which was not illegal but was clearly stupid. That victory for Gingrich must have been especially sweet since Frank had tried to bring down the same Ethics Committee’s judgment on Gingrich’s early book deals—a 1977 advance from friends for an unsubmitted novel, and a special partnership formed to promote his 1984 book, Window of Opportunity (his wife was paid $11,500 to administer the promotional effort).2 For whatever reasons, there is a long history of animosity between the two.


They seem like fated antagonists, each the other’s evil twin. Pudgy and pugnacious men in their early fifties, they are creatures of the House—Newt is in his ninth term, Barney in his eighth. Products of the Vietnam era, both had student deferments during the war. They are considered the intellectuals of their opposing forces—Gingrich with a doctorate from Tulane, Frank with a long Harvard connection (undergraduate, teaching assistant as a graduate student in the political science department, J.D. from Harvard Law, fellow of the Kennedy School). Frank, with a scholar’s mind, looks and talks like a street tough. Gingrich looks like a car salesman affecting professorial airs.

Frank and Gingrich share cognate complexities. Gingrich is not a homophobe like Dick Armey, or a racist like Jesse Helms. And Frank is not a bleeding-heart liberal like George Mc-Govern or Ted Kennedy. One might expect Frank to be the ultimate outsider—as a Jew, a homosexual, a man whose district includes Brookline, the turf of Michael Dukakis. But he is a pragmatist, a deal-maker, a man who likes to get things done. His moderation has angered some gays, to whom he says: “Would you mind letting me support you without managing to offend everyone else on earth?” His advice to Democrats includes a controversial claim that they should give up on gun control in the many places where they cannot win that argument. Democrats can fetter their ability to accomplish any other good things if they guarantee their own defeat at the polls on this one issue (which was Lincoln’s attitude toward abolition in the 1850s). Frank is also a man of roots. Though born in Bayonne, New Jersey, he has lived his whole adult life in Boston politics, as an aide to Mayor Kevin White, a member of the Massachusetts legislature, and the representative in Washington of the state’s fourth district.

Gingrich, who represents the traditional South, is not a southerner. Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he grew up as a rootless “army brat,” following his stepfather, a career army officer, from camp to camp—in America (Fort Riley, Fort Benning) or abroad (Stuttgart, Orléans). For long periods, the stepfather was away in Korea or Vietnam, and Gingrich, now an advocate of orphanages, was a semi-orphan himself, living with his dead father’s sister and her husband, or with his maternal grandmother, while his mother held a job.


The Futurist as Historian

Gingrich became what his gurus, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, say the future will make most of us, “a modular person,” an assemblage of “modules” to be adapted, tried out, rejected, recombined in a constant adaptation to new surroundings. The modular person is not formed to a single ideal by the pressure of the nuclear family, an outmoded (second-wave) institution. The Tofflers believe we must “denuclearize” the family, resist “the propaganda of pronatalists” about having children, and experiment with various lifestyles, including homosexuality, serial monogamy, and “aggregate families” (which distribute children from various links in the serial-marriage chain).3 No wonder Gingrich, whose half sister is gay, does not show the typical rightwing hostility to homosexuality. Gingrich enthusiastically welcomes the opportunities for self-fashioning that the Tofflers ascribe to the post-industrial world. As he wrote in Window of Opportunity:

Decentralization will, of necessity, limit our ability to enforce behavioral codes upon others… [People] will invite and enjoy constant change…. Rather than whining that change is frightening (which it is), that change often dissociates us from our roots (which it does), and that change sometimes has undesirable side effects (which is true), our grandchildren will accept these caveats as facts of life.4

Things that seem anomalous in Gingrich’s public statements—like his claim that the government should subsidize with tax breaks the distribution of laptop computers to poor children—make more sense when we look at their full context in his thinking. The Tofflers believe that the child labor laws, geared to heavy physical tasks in the industrial era, should be repealed in the information era, since children can play on computer keyboards with great skill.5 Gingrich agreed, in his 1984 book:

Recently I heard a story about an eighth-grader in Florida who built a successful business as a weather consultant serving large corporations by processing free information [via electronic mail]… It is conceivable that, by our grandchildren’s time, adolescence will have become a thing of the past: future historians may conclude that adolescence was an invention of 19th-century parents designed to keep their children out of textile and steel mills.6

Gingrich wants to give the poor laptop computers as a way of earning, not just of learning. Gingrich’s fascination with technology, modernization, and new life styles antedated his exposure of the Tofflers’ ideas. His 1971 dissertation, written in the history department at Tulane, was partly critical of colonialism in the Belgian Congo, but was on the whole an apologia for it. It is not surprising that an army brat brought up on or near military bases should think imperially; but the grounds for his defense of Belgium are the most interesting thing in the dissertation. The colonizers did the native people an unwanted favor by forcing modernization on them.


Within the beliefs of twentieth century American liberalism, European colonialism is an unacceptable political policy, but what did it mean to the natives? Did the colonial powers perform a painful but positive function in disrupting traditional society and so paving the way for more rapid modernization?7

Gingrich answers that question with an emphatic yes, though he knows such a conclusion is resisted by “black xenophobia”: “It would be only too easy for the leaders of developing countries, faced with massive domestic problems, to divert public attention toward the ‘white man’s guilt.’ ”

The Belgians consciously sought to solve one of the great problems of our age—how to modernize a hitherto traditional society…. The Belgians methodically developed the largest primary and vocational school system in Black Africa…. The Belgian leaders had virtually absolute power. By 20th century standards [presumably a reference to Hitler and Stalin] they used it benevolently although without foresight.8

Belgian rule was not perfect, Gingrich concedes, but that was not because of hostility toward the Africans. Confused policies came from internal Belgian conflicts—between French and Flemish as the proper school language, and between secular educators and Catholic missionaries. Gingrich’s greatest criticism is reserved for the Catholic missionaries, who were content to leave Congolese on the farm, instead of channeling them toward the cities for secularization and modernization. “The priests apparently had an almost unanimous hostility to urban life…. In the city they had less stature and were sometimes even mocked by younger Congolese.”9 If the Africans had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the twentieth century—well, that was good for them. Modernization he treats as the necessary preliminary to self-rule.

When Gingrich is looking at imperial power, government is good. His many attacks on bureaucracy do not dim his affection for that eminently bureaucratic institution, the colonizing army. Even when looking at domestic tasks that involve vast technological change, Gingrich has been willing to give the government a large role. He is an advocate of the civilian domestication of space, though he knows that only the government has the resources to perform this task. And he has justified tax expenditure on the space shuttle by citing other government programs. IBM developed its computers to cope with New Deal contracts (just as Ross Perot developed his software to service the government’s medical programs):

Private airlines could not have survived at all without government subsidies underwriting the building of airfields, the Civil Aeronautics Board, and government-bonus rates for airmail.10

He wants similar encouragement of modern techniques today. Or does he?

The futuristic Newt, believing in a “modular man” who assembles himself like a Tinkertoy stick seeking new experimental things to plug into his polydirectional extensions—this Newt is drastically at odds with the conservative Georgia politician who speaks for tradition, for resistance to change, for the very attempt to “enforce behavioral codes” that he denounced in his 1984 book. When everyone is fashioning a modular self, no single template can be imposed on the self, on the family, on the society.

There is a cultural dissonance between Newt the visionary futurist and Newt the conservative politician. This leads to bizarre oscillations between the radical and the reactionary. In Lesson Six of his television history course, he is describing beneficial changes brought about by technology. Discussing the introduction of the bicycle, he gives an idea of its impact by saying people feared it would destroy morals, carrying young people far from the supervising eye of chaperons. He cannot resist getting in a dig at the surgeon general then in office: “If Joycelyn Elders had been around, she would have been racing beside the bicycles handing out condoms.”11 The students laughed—Elders was a butt of repeated conservative attack at the time—but in a puzzled hesitating way. As well they might. The teacher was, at the outset, praising change and mocking those who resist it—and Elders showed up in this context.

But Gingrich and the students are politically programmed to mock her for introducing changes like condoms in the schools. According to the Tofflers, who praise the freedom that comes not only from contraception and abortion but from genetically engineered child-planning, she should be a heroine.12 But Newt had dragged her in as the villain-of-the-moment where that reference made absolutely no sense at all.

This cultural clash is a symbol-in-little of the entire paradox of Gingrich’s television course. He preaches an approach to American history that is celebratory, based on static symbols for enduring values; but he says that modern techniques can be used to promote the ancient values. As he puts it, “What Washington and Franklin did in a stagecoach, we can do in a space ship.”13 Yet it is the whole point of the Tofflers that technology is not just a tool but an agent that alters its user. When we live in what the Tofflers call a “blip culture” of sound bites, a blizzard of information in disjoined “modules,” we become modular in using these energy-bursts to think our way to new accommodations with a world so jaggedly represented to us.14 Gingrich simply dances past that point. History should teach us the same old lessons he was taught in his American schools—that America is exceptional, moral, and just (though also innovative, technologically sophisticated, and geared to success for all its “real” inhabitants, those who make themselves into pioneering businessmen like Benjamin Franklin).

Gingrich unabashedly states that the aim of history courses is to inculcate values, the values embodied in ancient myths—in Washington praying at Valley Forge, or Patrick Henry saying, “Give me liberty or give me death,” or Nathan Hale saying, “I regret I have but one life to lose for my country.” Gingrich does not advert to the fact that none of those things, in all likelihood, ever occurred—but one senses that he would not care if this were pointed out to him. It is the moral that matters, not the evidence. Yet he cannot tell us often enough, in and out of class, that “I am a history professor.” How many of us have taken a history class in which the professor tells you in class, every class, sometimes several times in one session, that he is a professor?

For all this emphasis on his credentials, Gingrich gets his favorite myths wrong, even in the myth’s own terms. He tells his students to go to Williams-burg and stand on the very spot where Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”15 If Henry ever did say it. he didn’t say it there—it was in Richmond. Repeatedly Gingrich makes a favorite point, to show how important property is: “Thomas Jefferson originally wrote life, liberty, and the pursuit of property. But they [Congress?] decided happiness is a nicer word.” If his students heard that once, they heard it a dozen times. But no one wrote “the pursuit of property.” Lockeans of all sorts used the triad “life, liberty, and property.” Jefferson did not. His first draft, unaltered by Congress on this point, said “the pursuit of happiness.”

There is not even a mythical antecedent for Gingrich’s tale. He makes it up out of botched memories of the pre-Jeffersonian triad’s existence. He tells people that Benjamin Franklin was a typical “tinkering” American because he worked out the lightning rod before he framed a theory-to explain it.16 But Franklin, a genius not “typical” of anything, was a brilliant speculator who framed his theory of electricity and only performed the practical lightning experiment after others, across the Atlantic, had tested his views. (In his opening address as speaker, Gingrich told, in touching detail, the story of Franklin’s stopping the Constitutional Convention’s squabblings with a successful plea that they pray together. They never did so.)

Ironically, in his course calling for a devotion to ancient myths, resistant to modern inquiry, Gingrich is repeating the mistake he claims the Catholic missionaries made in the Congo. They were content to let the villagers stay mired in an outmoded agrarian life, so long as they accepted the faith being preached to them. Newt wants his cyberspace Tofflerites to stay tuned to an ancient America that exists only in legends of the past. Actually he is doing both the things that, according to him, tore the Congolese education effort apart—preaching acquiescence to the old ways (like the missionaries), and teaching the need for change (like the secular educators calling the Congolese into cities).

He seems to show no awareness of these contradictions—and no strong grasp of any of the things he deals with daily, whether Toffler’s concepts or his McGuffeyite history-of-America-by-edifying-anecdote. For all Gingrich’s bustle of intellectual pep talks, his endless flogging of the same few books, Barney Frank can see that “Newt does not have ideas, he has ideas about ideas. He keeps saying what a good idea it is to have ideas.”

In the same way, he does not study history but echoes of history—myths, success books with historical anecdotes—and, especially, novels. He says at least half of his reading is in novels. “I believe in fiction.”17 The detective story is an American form because the hero always breaks rules. If you want to understand the Renaissance, read Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy. The Congress? Read Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent. Modern war? Tom Clancy. It is note-worthy that, given any choice in this fictional approach to history, Gingrich goes for the trashier. He tells students to read Irving Stone’s novel on Michelangelo, not Sidney Alexander’s Nicodemus. He recommends Drury on the Congress, not Henry Adams’s Democracy or Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age.

If you can get a novel in its movie form, all the better. Gingrich draws lessons from The Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day Lewis as Natty Bumppo (and is under the misconception that it is faithful to the novel). He urges students to learn their history from Sunrise at Campobello or Young Lincoln in Illinois “with Raymond Massey as Lincoln” (he means Abe Lincoln in Illinois—Young Mr. Lincoln has Henry Fonda). Gingrich’s belief in the power of movies to solve life’s problems came out when he suggested the baseball strike could be settled by getting both sides together to watch Field of Dreams, 18 just as he promoted orphanages by telling people to see Spencer Tracy in Boys Town.

When, rarely, Gingrich refers to real historians, he, the professional historian, regularly gets the names of even the most distinguished of them wrong (Gordon Woods, for instance, not Gordon Wood).19 Particular ideas do not interest him unless you can use them to succeed (which is what makes America “fairly unique”).

He tells his students they can be millionaires if they only think they can, if they conceive their goals before their strategy, their strategy before their program. It is the way he has spent his life. Soon after arriving as an assistant professor at West Georgia College, he let other faculty members know he would accept their vote to be the school’s president.20 He was not interested in being a historian, but in using his history post to advance himself, overnight. As the kid who had to make new connections with each move of his father’s military career, he is quick to have a plan for each new situation. This left him, according to an official (if bemused) friend, ex-Congressman Vin Weber of Minnesota, with “a definite desire to have real friends, which I think he’s not had a lot of in his life.” 21 His uneasiness with anything but the pushing of his own agenda shows in Gingrich’s maladroit attempts to be chummy with the students on his tape. He says he is there to listen to them, but he never stops talking. His attempts at humor are tone-deaf, like the comment on Joycelyn Elders. At one point, attacking sensationalism (which the Tofflers consider natural in a blip culture), he deplores the fact that the news media, early in 1994, acted as if America had only five people in it (Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, the Menendez brothers, and John Bobbitt)—five “if you count Bobbitt as one.” The students were slow to get it, so he explained: “well, five people and a part.”22 Nervous laughter time.


The Contract’s Cost

The Republicans’ Contract with America is a perfect expression of Gingrichism. It is a strategy for winning, not a program for government. It is a modular document—popular ideas stuck together without cohering into a workable program. Taken singly, each item has a constituency, and each can be used to attack the Democrats as avatars of the welfare state, the bureaucracy, or the elite. Cut taxes. Raise benefits for business. Raise defense. Balance the budget. Taken together, they destroy one another. Barney Frank says the Republicans are holding a time bomb in their hands. “Passing the Contract is the easy part. The crunch comes when they have to say, ‘We can do all this and balance the budget.’ They can’t.” In fact, “They are likely to get the worst of both worlds—make a series of unpopular cuts and still not balance the budget. They’ll get the blame for the cuts and no credit for the budget.”

Frank also expects the Republicans to alienate their “populist” followers by the kinds of cuts they espouse. “Now they want to save money on Social Security by lowering the Consumer Price Index numbers [to which cost-of-living raises are geared]. We wanted to tax Social Security income for the rich. They want to cut everyone’s income—which will mainly affect those with the least money. We tried to hit the top. They want to hit the bottom.”

The leading political organizers on the right, assembled for a symposium in the March issue of Harper’s, seemed to agree that symbolic cuts are the most the Republicans can aspire to at the outset—but they could not agree on what the cuts should be.23 David Frum, a former editor at The Wall Street Journal, said, “Intellectually, farm subsidies are indefensible”—but Frank Luntz, the pollster on whose work the Contract was framed, said he would stand far away from Frum when he took that position: “If we make the farmers go first, we’re going to get killed in the farm community.”

The easiest cut for the Republicans should be aid for the arts, which talkshow hosts have been berating for years. But Frank said, “They’re getting killed by the mail for NPR.” Frum said he was not surprised. “The sort of people who love the opera and support their local arts organizations are also the sort of people who make $100,000 donations to the Republican Party.”

Even welfare, the favorite scapegoat for government costs, was not something the Republicans could agree on. James Pinkerton, famous for giving the Bush era a Republican “New Paradigm,” said Republicans have to provide federal work programs to get people off welfare; but Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition leader, called that “dismantling the New Deal by creating a new one.” Pinkerton said Republicans cannot let people starve—to which William Kristol, the faxmaster of the Republican revolution, said he didn’t “believe, in fact, that people would starve”—The New York Times would just say people were starving: “No matter what we do, the fairness card will be played against us.” To the fact (admitted by all) that cutting (or even eliminating) welfare would not do much for the budget, Ralph Reed replied that it is important to hit the poor in order to shame the rich into giving up something on their part:

So if you go out there early and pass a tough and strong and dramatic welfare-reform bill that encourages work and marriage and discourages out-of-wedlock birth, then rhetorically you can say, “Look, we’ve asked the least among us to sacrifice so that we can have a smaller government… We can’t ask the least among us to get out of the wagon and start pulling unless you get out too.”

Interesting how the religious leader, Mr. Reed, echoes scripture. Jesus said, “the least among you” are the greatest (Luke 9:48). Reed says, “the least among us” should be thrown out of the wagon as a teaching tool to shame others.

No matter where the Republicans begin, they are in trouble—which led Luntz to say: “If everyone is giving up something at the same time, you’re okay… We’ve all got to go together.” Frum heartily agreed: “I would say that on a single day this summer we eliminate three hundred programs, each one costing a billion dollars”—which would still not balance the budget, “but, boy, do they [the cuts] make a point.”

Can politicians take the screams of outrage such a move would provoke? It will require a toughness most people have not suspected in their delegates. Kristol said: “If Republicans get spooked the first time someone tries to demagogue that issue [fairness], we will be in deep trouble. Republicans will need to have thick skins to survive the fairness attack.”

The big thinkers psyched themselves up for this bloodletting. Frum: “There is no way that the Republican Party is going to be able to remain true to its principles without being accused of being callous. In the current environment, being accused of callousness might even be to our advantage.” Mike Murphy, the “hot” political consultant running Lamar Alexander’s presidential campaign, agreed: “We have to whip our guys up into a warrior-like frenzy, or they’re going to back off on day fourteen.” If that should happen, said Kristol, it is Apocalypse Time:

If Republicans fail on Capitol Hill, then you could have genuinely chaotic, postmodernist, deconstructionist politics in America… Maybe a year from now we’ll be back into chaos and into Perot squared… At this point, I think those are basically the two alternatives: Republican success or political chaos.

In short: here’s another fine mess Newt’s gotten us into. And remember that these gurus were fighting over symbolic cuts. No one was talking, yet, about retrenching Social Security and Medicare, though they all know that will be necessary if the budget is to be balanced by 2002, the Contract’s target date.

Behind the talk of “whipping ourselves into a frenzy” is a realization that the Rush Limbaugh wing of the party is ruthlessly unforgiving to back-sliders. Already some talk-show hosts are attacking delegates who went back on a term limit of six years for representatives in the House. The talk shows, with their hard-core callers, live in a world of absolutes. There is no compromise possible with the devils Bill and Hillary. And behind the talk shows lie the mobilized and mobilizable Christian fundamentalists who make the Republican primaries so dangerous to Republicans who waver. Frank says, “The Republican primaries have a lower turnout than Democrats. Moderates who will vote Republican in the fall do not necessarily even think of themselves as Republicans in the spring. So you combine a low turnout with a disproportionately high number of hyperactive fundamentalists.”

Frank knows the problem from his own experience with a popular moderate Republican, Margaret Heckler. When redistricting folded Frank’s district into Heckler’s in 1982, he thought it would be useless to run against her. But then he realized that she had been forced to vote for Reagan’s economic program in order to survive her primary. That gave him a weapon, the argument that Heckler drove up the deficit while cutting services. She lost to him in the general elections. He sees delegates like Constance Morella being put in Heckler’s position. “Connie comes from liberal Montgomery Country, but her Republican primary votes went for [right-wing gubernatorial candidate] Ellen Sauerbrey this year.” Fanatics are useful allies for attacking those in power, but they become hard to satisfy when they put their own in office.

Not that Frank thinks the Democrats have an easy task ahead of them. “Our own people—the blacks, the unions—have been unhappy with us. Their plight is worse because of international economic integration, which robs them of jobs, even while it benefits other parts of the American economy. We have to insist on environmental and work standards in other countries. We also have to come up with the money for programs to cope with their suffering while we work for the long-range benefits of economic integration. That means attacking defense in a serious way. If we were starting fresh, would anyone say that what we really need now is to send 100,000 troops to defend Europe—a prosperous area with its own defense capabilities?”

Frank thinks it absurd that the country should spend as much as the rest of the world on defense; should plan to wage two wars, simultaneously, all alone; should insist on a level of preparedness equaling what we kept up when faced with a superpower we kept picturing as our superior. “If we are worried about preparedness, we should ask how prepared Russia looks in Chechnya. If anyone wants to attack the United States, they should do it in November. Since the budget is drawn up in December, every November we learn that we have no defense.”

But Clinton, inhibited by his own lack of military service, has not shown the stomach for a fight with the Pentagon. If the Contract causes a backlash against too much discipline among the Republicans, while Democrats show little or no discipline, will chaos come—the parties splintering into new factions and “Perot squared”?

“Not on our side,” Frank says. “The Republicans are great unifiers for us. What Gingrich taught us is not simply that we can lose but that the consequences of losing are far worse than they used to be. These people are not Nixon. They are not Ford. These are people who are much more threatening to the values our people care about. The starkness of the choices will make our differences diminish.”


This Issue

March 23, 1995