Monday, May 23, 2011

Gingrichism Didn't Start with Gingrich

Via Digby this great post by Jonathan Zasloff explaining how Gingrich is really the heart and soul of the modern conservative modus operandi:
Gingrichism is the philosophy that all means short of illegality are fair game in the struggle for political power.  He came to the fore in the House minority by personal attacks on other members’ patriotism; he stirred up the Republican base with the argument that the Democrats were not merely wrong, but evil and a threat to the Republic.  As Speaker, he destroyed the existing committee structure and bill mark-ups, did away with Congressional institutions to educate members (such as the Office of Technology Assessment or the Administrative Conference of the United States), and centralized power in the leadership.  When he did not get his way with Clinton, he cavalierly shut down the government.  Not cowed by the political disaster that ensued, he used the House’s impeachment power for political purposes and put the House Oversight Committee in the hands of Dan Burton with the express mandate to harass and cripple political opponents.  Gingrich broke institutions not by accident, but on purpose.
It's a great piece, but I think you can't have this discussion without mentioning Nixon, the White House "plumbers", ratfucking and Watergate.  The corporate media choose to remember Watergate as being about the coverup, not the crime.  That's probably true as far as why they care about it (nothing drives the beltway press more than a story that a politician doesn't want told or revealed) but the heart of the scandal was essentially about election rigging - bugging the campaign headquarters of the opposition, threatening (or killing) journalists who gave bad coverage, terrorizing non-partisan think tanks.  Gingrich certainly gets some credit for the new and inventive ways he found to undermine the informal compacts that make democracy work, but it's far too generous to give him credit for inventing it.

What did change in 1994 is that the takeover of the Republican party by religious fundamentalists and the malefactors of great wealth meant the demise of the Rockefeller Republicans (the moderates)A few did hang on, but they were no longer any real influence on the party.  Nixon had to contend with his own Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General both of whom resigned rather than obey the improper order to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.  Nixon had to contend with Republican Senators who told him he needed to resign because he was going to lose an impeachment trial in the Senate.   Republicans had 42 Senators at that time, which meant there were at least 9 Republican Senators ready to remove Nixon from office.  Nothing like that existed after 1994.  Next in line to Newt was Majority Leader Dick Armey, and below that, Majority Whip Tom Delay.  Moderatism was dead.  Gingrichism never faced any significant internal Republican resistance the way Nixonism did, there was no one left in the Republican party of any importance who didn't believe in it.

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