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Gingrish shakes, rattles and rolls

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, December 13, 1994

Media mavens and Washington-based mandarins have taken to describing Speaker of the House-elect Newt Gingrich as “reckless” and “out-of-control.” They would have us believe that — after the flush of victory wears thin — the new Republican leader will settle down, play by the rules of Washington, and things will get back to normal. In the patronizing words of USA Today Gingrich will “grow into the job. ” Take another look.

Newt Gingrich has not only grown into the job, he has redefined the job. What media skeptics call “reckless” and “out-of-control,” more sympathetic observers call “audacious” and “plain talk.” Not since Harry Truman have we had a national leader speak with such clarity and resonance about the actions required to secure our nation’s future. This may not be the job description favored by the mandarins, but he is doing the job desired by a majority of the American people: Newt Gingrich is both lighting candles and shaking things up.

The Speaker-elect is shaking things up in Congress — eliminating three major committees and more than 20 subcommittees, cutting the congressional bureaucracy and reducing its budget. He is reforming Congress in a way that a joint committee chaired by Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., and Sen. David Boren, D-Okla., had a chance but failed to do.

Gingrich is shaking things up at the White House, which is already scrambling to catch up by announcing “me-too” proposals for defense spending increases and tax cuts; eliminating, radically downsizing or re-engineering selected federal agencies (e.g., HUD and the Transportation); devolving welfare, education and other federal programs to the states; and firing a surgeon general whose counterculture pronouncements, like fingernails on a chalkboard, irritated the sensibilities of mainstream Americans. Bill Clinton has attached himself so closely to the GOP agenda that one wag called him the “Velcro president.”

Gingrich and the Republicans are shaking up the establishment — and not just the media. Example: Last week, Harvard’s Kennedy School had to cancel its biannual orientation for new members of Congress, held since 1972. Reason: They couldn’t fill the seats. This new crop of freshman members of Congress were not about to be lectured by the likes of Michael Dukakis and other political and cultural elites who wobble at the mention of words and phrases like “discipline,” “personal responsibility,” and “moral standards.” To most wobblies, a term like “nongovernmental solution” is an oxymoron.

The revolution is real, but the forces arrayed against the new speaker and his band of reformers are formidable. Example: Last week, I was talking to a federal relations vice president of a Fortune 50 company. He told me he was “concerned about Newt,” that Newt was a “loose cannon” and would ignite a backlash. He told me he and his colleagues were admonishing Republican senators and members of Congress to “rein in” Newt. Of course, I demurred.

These kinds of pressures coming from the business community, Republicans and even conservatives show that mandarins come in all shapes, sizes and labels — and they are nearly all out of touch. For the sake of badly needed political and policy reform, let’s hope no one listens to their tired message of “go along and get along.” The American people expect more — and the course the speaker-elect is taking is just what the people ordered.

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