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The Second Coming of Kristol and Gingrich

February 15, 2009

They're baaaaack! As I detailed previously, the lockstep Republican obstructionism which greeted President Obama's stimulus plan in Congress was almost a perfect replay of the GOP's treatment of Bill Clinton's economic program in 1993. Then as now, Newt Gingrich and Bill Kristol helped mobilize a minority Republican Party afraid not that a new Democratic president would fail, but that he would succeed. The only difference with this second coming is the emergence of Gingrich's Mini-Me, Eric Cantor.
Back in 1993, Kristol and Gingrich formed the yin and yang of the GOP's all-out war to smother the nascent Clinton presidency. It was Kristol, conservative uber-columnist and former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle, whose infamous January 1994 memo rallied Republicans to block the Clinton health care plan at all costs. Fearing a permanent Democratic majority if Bill Clinton succeeded in passing his health care reform package, Kristol's "no crisis" mantra both helped stop Clinton care dead in its tracks and trigger the Republican revolution of 1994.
16 years later, Kristol is at it again. Just days after his much-hyped dinner with Barack Obama, Kristol urged GOP opposition to the stimulus proposal, contending, "Politically, I think the Republicans have more room to argue for changes and ultimately vote against it." Two weeks later, Kristol left no doubt that he believed the Republican Party should repeat the obstructionism that destroyed the Clinton health care plan in 1993 and 1994. GOP leaders in Congress, Kristol told Fox News' Neil Cavuto, should emulate the roadblock Republicans of the 1990's to block Obama's economic recovery package now and everything else - including health care reform - later:

"But the loss of credibility, even if they jam it through, really hurts them on the next, on the next piece of legislation. Clinton got through his tax increases in '93, it was such a labor and he had to twist so many arms to do it and he became so unpopular...
...That made it so much easier to then defeat his health care initiative. So, it's very important for Republicans who think they're going to have to fight later on on health care, fight later on maybe on some of the bank bailout legislation, fight later on on all kinds of issues. It's very important for them, I think, not just to stay united at this time, though that's important, but to make the arguments."

Joining Kristol in both fights is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In the 1993 and 1994, Gingrich led the successful Republican crusade, which denied Clinton any GOP votes on his 1993 economic program and subsequently torpedoed his health care initiative.
And now, Gingrich too is back. As ThinkProgress noted this morning, "despite being out of office, Gingrich still has found a key role in current legislative debates." And as the New York Times detailed, the ghost of Republican obstructionism past has been instilled in Gingrich's heir, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA).
In early January, Cantor's leadership among the leaders of the latter-day roadblock Republicans got off to a rocky start. Having not yet fully digested the GOP talking points on the Obama economic recovery plan, Cantor on January 16 recounted his productive meetings with chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel, "It has thus far been a very efficient process."
But as the Republicans' rejectionist front hardened despite Obama's unprecedented outreach, Cantor made clear his efforts to mimic Gingrich's 1990's obstructionism were informed by Newt himself. As the Times described it:

Mr. Cantor said he had studied Mr. Gingrich's years in power and had been in regular touch with him as he sought to help his party find the right tone and message. Indeed, one of Mr. Gingrich's leading victories in unifying his caucus against Mr. Clinton's package of tax increases to balance the budget in 1993 has been echoed in the events of the last few weeks.
"I talk to Newt on a regular basis because he was in the position that we are in: in the extreme minority," he said.

Hopefully, that's where they'll stay. While the Republicans' stonewalling of Clinton produced a historic political triumph for the GOP in the 1994 mid-terms, as public policy their fear-mongering was laughably wrong.
When Congress passed Clinton's $496 billion economic package in August 1993,Texas Republican Phil Gramm (yes, that Phil Gramm) warned:

"I believe this program is going to make the economy weak. I believe hundreds of thousands of people are going to lose their jobs. I believe Bill Clinton will be one of those people."

And as Congress Matters documented today, Gramm was far from alone in making dire predictions of looming economic calamity. At the forefront was none other than Newt Gingrich:

"I believe this will lead to a recession next year. This is the Democrat machine's recession, and each one of them will be held personally accountable."

That, of course, was the Republican bet then, as now. Clinton, of course, ultimately presided over the most robust economic expansion since World War II. But Clinton and the Democrats nevertheless suffered a devastating defeat in 1994.
As Bill Kristol, Newt Gingrich and now Eric Cantor once again rev up the Republican obstructionism machine against President Obama, it is worth remembering the words of Karl Marx. Historical events, he said, occur twice, first as tragedy and the second time as farce. With the nation facing its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, let's hope so.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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