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The “Contract from America” is not Gingrich’s “Contract with America”

For many Republicans election 2010 is beginning to feel a lot like 1994.  That was the year, in one of the most sea changing elections since the end of World War II, that the Republicans took control of the Congress.  But they did more than win a majority.  Unlike their 1946 and 1952 victories when they won a majority only to lose it a couple of years later, this time, the GOP’s hold on both Houses of Congress lasted twelve years. It came to an end in 2006. With the midterms just a few weeks away, it’s getting down to counting seats. It will take a shift of forty seats in the House of Representatives to give the GOP control. The Senate is in the realm of possibility, but the prospect of an outright takeover remains a little more remote.

For the Republicans, a lot of this year’s campaign, has been about capturing some of the same kind of energy that brought them to power sixteen years ago. The electorate is dissatisfied, the President isn’t popular, and the economy is in grim shape. That’s 1994 all over again. However, what they lack is the one thing Newt Gingrich, and his feisty band of insurgents, brought to the campaign back in 1994.  And that was a unified national agenda.
Voters will gladly vote for a certain candidate just to vote against another.  It happens all the time.  But the Republicans, beginning to worry that this might not be quite enough to get them the swing they need, decided it was time to try and recreate a little of that 1994 magic.  Or at least that was the hope. In a not so creative move they have tried to recreate the famous, “Contract with America” with what they call the “Contract from America.” Save for the cute naming, that’s about where the similarity stops.
Let’s go back in time a bit.  It’s 1994 and Newt Gingrich, then in the minority, working with his leadership team, after lots of careful planning, and relatively little polling, crafted the Contract with America. It wasn’t a set of platitudes. Rather, it represented specific legislative proposals that he promised the Congress would enact if the voters gave them the mandate. All but a handful of Congressmen and GOP Congressional hopefuls signed on to the contract at a formal ceremony on the steps of the Capitol. The 1994 GOP campaign represented the first consolidated national Republican Congressional campaign in decades. It was masterful to say the least. The Contract included legislation to reform welfare, enact Tort reform, create transparency in government (that wasn’t what they called it back then, but that’s what it was), and legislation aimed at cutting crime. Remarkably, thanks to a Democratic President who could shift from left to right with amazing ease, a lot of the contract was enacted. That same President also went on to teach Newt Gingrich a few lessons in politics, but that’s another story.
Ah, but flash forward to 2010.  The Contract from America (gotta keep our contracts straight) isn’t, unlike its semi-namesake, some kind of cerebral, well thought out, set of legislative proposals. It’s not an agenda. Rather it’s a polling driven set of platitudes that, while very nice, and even have me nodding my head in approval for some of them, doesn’t say much. There is a commitment to protect the Constitution, that’s hard to argue with, another to demand a balanced budget, good thinking, and another to repeal the healthcare bill.  
Oh, yes, and another to stop the pork. But, if you’re looking for substance, or anything which can be considered the basis of a national campaign, this isn’t it. There are no specifics, it doesn’t come with a timetable, and indeed, hasn’t managed anything close to the near-lockstep support from the GOP rank and file that the 1994 contract was able to muster.
 The Republicans, of course, like the trend they’re seeing in the national election. They sense a Republican sweep. But they’re worried.  Is a strong anti-Democrat sentiment sufficient to, as my Grandfather used to say, “throw the bums out?”  Maybe, and at the moment, I would say even probably, but in 1994, Newt Gingrich and his team won their “Republican Revolution,” not just because the voters wanted to send Washington a message – they won it because they had something positive to offer. It proved a critical combination. Sixteen years ago that made the Republican tide virtually unstoppable. In 2010 I still have my doubts.

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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