In the end, it was Dubya and Big Dick who brought the GOP (not to mention the entire nation) down, but there are many who deserve credit for laying the groundwork, none more so than Nattering Newt. Two NY Times columnists provide a good concise history of how right wing malevolence eventually turned into mutual suicide in this morning’s paper.
The antediluvian political culture of Coburn and his peers, for all its roots in the race-baiting “Southern strategy” of the Nixon era, is actually of a more recent vintage. It dates back just 15 years, to what my Times colleague Sam Tanenhaus calls conservatism’s “most decadent phase” in his coming book “The Death of Conservatism.” This was the Newt Gingrich revolution, swept into Congress by the midterms of 1994. Its troops came armed with a reform agenda titled the “Contract With America” and a mother lode of piety. Their promises included an end to federal deficits, the restoration of national security, transparent (and fewer) House committees, and “a Congress that respects the values and shares the faith of the American family.”
That the class of ’94 failed on almost every count is a matter of history, no matter how hard it has retroactively tried to blame its disastrous record on George W. Bush. Its incompetence may even have been greater than its world-class hypocrisy. Its only memorable achievements were to shut down the government in a fit of pique and to impeach Bill Clinton in a tsunami of moral outrage.
The class of ’94 gave us J.D. Hayworth and Bob Ney of the Jack Abramoff casino-lobbying scandals. Ney, a House committee chairman, did 17 months in jail. It gave us the sexual adventurers Mark Sanford, John Ensign and Mark Foley. (All these distinguished gentlemen voted for articles of impeachment, as did Gingrich, their randy role model.) The class of ’94 also included a black Republican, J. C. Watts, who at least had the integrity to leave Congress in 2003 to become a bona fide lobbyist rather than go on a K Street lobbyist’s payroll while still in public office. He was a fleeting novelty; there’s been no black Republican elected to either chamber of Congress since. Today the G.O.P.’s token black is its party chairman, Michael Steele, who last week unveiled his latest strategy for recruiting minority voters. “My plan is to say, ‘Ya’ll come!’ ” he explained, adding “I got the fried chicken and potato salad!”
Among Sotomayor’s questioners, both Coburn and Lindsey Graham are class of ’94. They — along with Jeff Sessions, a former Alabama attorney general best known for his unsuccessful prosecutions of civil rights activists — set the Republicans’ tone last week. In one of his many cringe-inducing moments, Graham suggested to Sotomayor that she had “a temperament problem” and advised that “maybe these hearings are a time for self-reflection.” That’s the crux of the ’94 spirit, even more than its constant, whiny refrain of white victimization: Hold others to a standard that you would not think of enforcing on yourself or your peers.
Who can forget the glory years, when the Gipper invoked God but never went to church? When Arlen Specter accused Anita Hill of perjury to distract from Clarence Thomas’s false witness? When Newt Gingrich and other conservatives indulged in affairs with young Washington peaches as they pushed to impeach Bill Clinton?
No one had more flair than W. and Cheney, crowing about making us safe as they made the world more dangerous, and bragging about fiscal restraint while they spent us into oblivion.
Ah, those were the days, my friends, we thought they would never end.
And maybe they haven’t…