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Sharon Smith

Letter from the US

No newt is good newt

(February 1995)

From Socialist Review, No. 183, February 1995, p. 13.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

‘Gingrich is so out of touch with ordinary workers that he saw no contradiction in slashing spending to fight hunger while proposing that the poor should be given tax credits to go out and buy laptop computers’

Congress opened on 4 January with Republicans in the majority in both houses for the first time in 40 years. The Republicans basked in the glow of their electoral success, while the media lavished attention on the new Speaker of the House, Republican blowhard Newt Gingrich, as he unveiled a series of sweeping changes which the Republicans vowed to implement in the first 100 days of Congress.

Gingrich revealed that besides throwing women and children off welfare after two years, the Republicans plan to stop all welfare payments to any family headed by an unwed mother under the age of 18 – or to children whose father is unknown. They would also pass laws banning both illegal and legal immigrants from receiving virtually any form of government service, such as medical treatment or welfare.

Gingrich also announced that if the Republicans get their way, they will bury all the anti-hunger programmes won through the struggles of the 1960s – including federally mandated stamps and school lunches for poor children – even though a million more people fell into poverty last year alone. In addition, House Majority Leader Dick Armey said he would like to abolish the minimum wage.

Gingrich was more than happy to revel in the media attention. He went so far as to describe himself as a historical visionary – a ‘transformational figure’ in the mould of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But the more people see of Gingrich, the less they likehim.

The media recently exposed how Gingrich ended his marriage to his first wife: he served her with divorce papers while she was recovering from a cancer operation. A former friend said Gingrich told him at the time that he planned to divorce his first wife because ‘she’s not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of the president. And besides, she has cancer.’ When Gingrich and his wife separated he gave her and their two children so little money that their church minister took up a collection for them.

Moreover, Gingrich is so out of touch with ordinary workers that he saw no contradiction in slashing spending to fight hunger while proposing that the poor should be given ‘tax credits’ to go out and buy laptop computers. By early January only 27 percent of those polled viewed Gingrich favourably, while his disapproval rating stood at 35 percent – a ten point rise in four weeks. But public disapproval is not limited to Gingrich. The Republicans plan to push through dramatic cuts in social spending just as most people say they want more spending on the poor. The Los Angeles Times found that just before the election 61 percent of those polled said they thought ‘that spending for domestic programmes should be increased.’ And a Newsweek poll showed that since the election 78 percent of those polled `would be upset if many poor mothers have to give up their welfare benefits and send their children to orphanages,’ while 73 percent, ‘would be upset if new limits on welfare cut off benefits to poor families even when no work is available.’

Since taking office Gingrich has committed several humiliating blunders, and has had to reverse himself while at the centre of the media spotlight. First he embarrassed himself by accepting a $4.5 million advance for a book he’s writing. Then he was forced to fire House historian Christina Jeffrey, when Jewish organisations revealed that she had helped deny federal funding for an educational programme about the Holocaust.

Gingrich also had to back off some of the most extreme Republican proposals after other Republicans reined him in. Republican strategist William Kristol, for example, warned that pushing a conservative agenda too quickly could ‘spook the public’ and cause an anti-Republican backlash. After vowing to reinstate school prayer immediately upon taking office, Gingrich has let the issue slide. He has also dropped his plan to build orphanages to house the nation’s poorest children. And he even suggested that he would consider dropping the ban on government services to legal aliens and ending completely welfare for teenage mothers.

But Clinton has proved unable to take advantage of Gingrich’s recent stumbles. Clinton has continued to swerve between the political right and centre proposing pale imitations of Republican policies.

The Economist recently described Clinton as having ‘some political strain of multiple personality disorder’. In December, in an effort to quickly weed out liberals from his cabinet, he fired Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, after she made the sensible suggestion that masturbation might be included in sex education in schools – a practice which already exists in many school districts. But Clinton has also resurrected two campaign promises he hasn’t mentioned in the last two years – his promises to give a ‘middle class tax cut’ to working class families and to raise the minimum wage.

Having placed his political fortunes in the hands of his corporate backers, Clinton has so far been unable to formulate a coherent alternative to the Republican plan. But, as independent Congressman Bernie Sanders pointed out recently, Clinton ‘seems not to understand that the big money interests who control our economy will not look fondly upon a president who gives them only 75 percent of what they want, when they can have a Republican who will give them 100 percent.’

All signs point to a period of political instability on the electoral front in the run up to the 1996 presidential election. If anything, the gap between rich and poor has widened yet further during the 1990s. In November Fortune magazine reported that ‘the percentage of corporate income devoted to payrolls is hovering near a record low’.

Meanwhile, in New York, where one in four people live below the poverty line, reports of cholera and bubonic plague surfaced last year. And Republican cutbacks will throw millions more people into extreme poverty. As long as workers’ living standards continue to fall and poverty continues to skyrocket, working class anger will eventually reach the boiling point. A Washington Post writer recently warned Republicans that unless they find solutions to these issues, ‘the revolving door politics of our time may make you the next victims.’

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