The Nose Remembers “the 1994 Wave”
Jean Marbella writes on the Sun’s Maryland Politics blog that she had a short conversation with Newt Gingrich, in town for the annual gathering in Baltimore of House Republicans, which is being held at the Marriott Inner Harbor Hotel at Camden Yards.
“Gingrich said the incoming GOP freshman class had some similarities with and some differences from the 1994 wave that he led, armed with their ‘Contract with America,’” Marbella writes, quoting Gingrich as saying, “They’ve arrived with a mission. They’re very dedicated. They may be even more serious about studying and learning. They have a model of what works and what doesn’t work.”
The Nose attended the 1994 gathering in Baltimore, after “the wave” happened—and though Gingrich may have led it, it was clear that the larger credit was then being given instead to Rush Limbaugh. Now, after 17 years of electoral see-sawing and changing perspectives on government, it is perhaps worth taking another look at what was being said in 1994. So here’s the Nose’s dusty dispatch, in its entirety:
The Nose could go on for pages telling charming tales of the Republican House-warming held at the Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel December 8 to 11, but we prefer to boil it down to its essence: Prepare for the conservative backlash, folks, because it promises to reach well beyond your wildest expectations.
Rush Limbaugh, who preached to the choir after Saturday’s dinner at Camden Yards (and who, by the way, sweats profusely when he eats), put it best: “We can now look forward to 40 years or more of Republican rule and domination.”
The conference, sponsored by conservative Washington think tanks Empower America (EA) and the Heritage Foundation (HF), turned out to be a case of reverse indoctrination. The superconservative new members, who were supposed to be doing the learning, ended up doing most of the schooling as establishment conservatives such as Jack Kemp, Vin Weber, and Lamar Alexander (and their protégés, including Maryland’s new Republican congressman, Bob Ehrlich, who took over Helen Delich Bentley’s seat in the Second District) learned a strange new lesson: In the changing political landscape, yesterday’s conservatives are today’s moderates.
Evidence of the shift was on hand during Rush’s after-dinner jeremiad. The Nose was seated next to Cheryl Rubin, who handled the press for HF during the event. Rubin’s affiliation with HF (the hard right’s voice in Ronald Reagan’s revolution) normally would mark her as an archconservative, but the November election has made such typecasting obsolete. As Rush delivered some sexist advice to the new members about how to handle female reporters, a seething Rubin couldn’t contain herself: “This is what pisses me off.” Later, when the Nose asked her opinion of Rush, she explains with a question: “Why does he always have to be such an asshole?”
Not everybody there was asking such probing questions. Vin Weber, a former Minnesota congressman and vice chairman of the board of EA, strokes the crowd of pols as he introduces Rush. Curiously, given the weekend’s bravado and emotionalism, he praises the new members for having “less ego and more idealism” than past freshmen classes. Then, he loudly proclaims, to the great joy of the exuberant 60 or so congresspersons-to-be in attendance, “this is the Limbaugh Congress!”
The Republican luminaries who spoke at the lush luncheons and dinners during the conference may not be as conservative as most of the freshmen class of 1994, but much of their advice is classic conservative dogma:
Edward Teller: The father of nuclear capability and the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), Teller is ancient and carries a long staff, a strong German accent, and the demeanor of a warlock. His advice: Jump-start SDI to “exploit” the reduced nuclear threat afforded by “the collapse of an evil empire.” He also calls for “world-wide observation—satellites looking over everything.” The Nose’s advice: Keep your shades drawn for the next few years.
Paul Gigot: A self-described “advocacy journalist” who sits on the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, Gigot offers “tips for dealing with the liberal press”: “Act like the majority you are and have the confidence that we are right.” The Nose’s advice: Read Gigot’s editorials in the dark, right where he wants you to be.
Tom Barrett: Family and marriage counselor to the Congress, Barrett is a born-again Christian who works for the Christian Embassy, which is affiliated with the even more ominous-sounding Campus Crusade for Christ. Barrett exhorts the new members to make sure their families are “priorities, not props” in their lives. Then he warns them of the viciousness of Washington culture: “This place won’t skip a beat when you are gone. Nobody looks back. They only look at the immediate present and their own futures.” The Nose’s advice: Fear God.
Jack Kemp: A former congressman, NFL quarterback, and Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary, Kemp delivered his time-tested message: Lower taxes, reduce regulation, stabilize prices, drop tariffs, and thereby empower everyone, especially the urban underclass, to grow wealthy. “The whole model that we have been working on since the early 1970s,” he says of the conservative philosophy, “. . . is predicated on a simple yet profound idea: That when people are rewarded for their productive human activity, they will produce.” The Nose’s advice: Listen to this man–he will be a voice of reason during the coming craziness.
As conservative as the old guard sounds, the incoming vanguard makes them look lefty. The Nose’s advice: Watch closely, but don’t get hypnotized by the rightward-swinging political pendulum, lest it brain you on the rebound.