A cry for voters to save country from GOP policies

October 15, 1998|By Bob Herbert

THROUGHOUT Thursday's impeachment debate in the House you could hear the uncharacteristically low-keyed voice of the GOP's chief inquisitor.

"The gentleman from Missouri is recognized for three minutes," Newt Gingrich would say. Or he would rap his speaker's gavel for quiet and ask, oh so formally and respectfully, "Does the gentleman move the previous question?"

Every now and then he would smile hideously, reminding us that hypocrisy is as abundant in Washington as fertilizer on the farm.

It was, frankly, chilling. Mr. Gingrich presiding over the possible impeachment of a Democratic president, even one as spectacularly vulnerable as Bill Clinton, is insane.

This is the same Newt Gingrich who several years ago told nTC group of young Republicans: "I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don't encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient and loyal and faithful and all those Boy Scout words, which would be great around the campfire but are lousy in politics."

The Republican Party, refashioned by Mr. Gingrich and his right-wing cronies, no longer has that problem. Since winning control of Congress in 1994, it has consistently pursued a mean-spirited extremist agenda and is now determined to turn the self-inflicted wounds of Mr. Clinton into an even larger majority.

Try to imagine the implications of a bigger, more powerful, more aggressive, more right-wing regime of Republicans in Congress.

Abortion foes

This is a party that is not content with trying to roll back abortion rights. It is fighting on several fronts against contraception. Just last week the Republican leadership in the House, under pressure from the right, killed a measure that would have required federal health plans that cover prescription drugs to cover the cost of contraceptives. No one seemed to think it was crazy to have abortion foes opposing a measure that would reduce the need for abortions.

This is a party that tried to eliminate federal nutrition standards for school meals and fought hard against a meat inspection system designed to protect the public from the deadly E. coli bacteria.

It's a party that attacked Medicare and Medicaid and went out of its way to trash the environment. Clean air? Clean water? Forget about it. Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the majority whip and a Clinton critic, denounced the Environmental Protection Agency as the "Gestapo of the government."

You want ethics? Pull the clips on Mr. Gingrich and learn how not to behave. Or check out John Boehner of Ohio, chairman of the House Republican Conference. I wrote a column in 1996 describing how he took money from tobacco lobbyists and handed it out to certain of his colleagues on the floor of the House, while the House was in session.

These are men who couldn't find the high road if they approached it by parachute.

No doubt Mr. Clinton brought his problems on himself. He destroyed his own presidency. But there are consequences to be paid if the Republicans are allowed to feast too ravenously on the political spoils.

Controlling the debate

Democrats have already lost the opportunity to control the campaign season with discussions of such issues as the rights of patients in the era of managed care, the need to move boldly to rebuild the public school system, the concerns of working Americans in a chaotic economic environment and the outlook for Social Security.

Having been handed the gift of Monica Lewinsky, the Republicans are running with her. She conceals their real agenda. If they can parlay the Monica madness into substantially increased majorities in the House and Senate, they can renew their conservative assault on government and their subversion of the interests of ordinary working Americans and the poor.

Keep in mind that this is a party that crafted extraordinary tax breaks for billionaires while claiming the sky would fall if the minimum wage was raised to $5.25 an hour.

Mr. Clinton and the Democrats fended off the most extreme aspects of the so-called Republican revolution of the mid-'90s. Now Mr. Clinton has given the right-wingers the opportunity to take care of their unfinished business. Only the voters stand in the way.

Bob Herbert is a New York Times columnist.

Pub Date: 10/15/98

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