What about the next 100 months? — with Jeff Eisenach (1995) | THINK TANK

Ben Wattenberg: Hello, I’m Ben Wattenberg. The first hundred days of the new Republican
Congress are over. Most of the Contract with America has been
passed by the House and awaits scrutiny by the Senate and the president. But is that all? Is this the beginning of the end or just the
end of the beginning? Are we perhaps moving into a new political
era, into uncharted political territory? Joining us to discuss this notion are William
Schneider, CNN political analyst, professor of political science at Boston College, and
resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; Thomas Mann, director of governmental
studies at the Brookings Institution and coauthor of the book “Renewing Congress”; James
Pinkerton, author of the forthcoming book “What Comes Next? The End of Big Government and the New Paradigm
Ahead” and lecturer in political management at George Washington University; and Jeffrey
Eisenach, president of the Progress and Freedom Foundation. Well, we know about the first hundred days,
so now the question before this house is: What about the next hundred months? This week on “Think Tank.” The late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill
said, “All politics is local.” Well, it may be that the new speaker, Newt
Gingrich, has turned that dictum on its head. When the Republicans announced their Contract
with America, it began turning the 1994 election toward a national referendum about the Democratic-controlled
Congress, about President Clinton and about the contract itself. The Republicans won overwhelmingly, taking
control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years. Gingrich wasted no time converting the perceived
referendum into a mandate for action. The Republicans said they would honor their
contractual vows. The Democrats attacked. But 9 out of 10 contract items passed the
House, everything but term limits. Some analysts say that the first hundred days
was showbiz and that over the next few years, tougher issues may well tear the Republican
coalition apart, issues like abortion, a flat tax, school prayer, affirmative action, tax
cuts, and big spending cuts. Other analysts say that what Gingrich and
the Republican Congress have done signals a sea change in American thinking and a turn
toward progressive conservatism. It’s been an astounding political time,
and now we should ask, What is next? What is going to happen in the next hundred
months? And let’s go around the horn once quickly,
starting with you, Jeff Eisenach. Where are we going? Jeffrey Eisenach: This is a revolution. It’s a people’s revolution. It is not yet clear whether it will be a Republican
revolution. For a hundred days, they have acted like a
majority. If they continue to act like a majority, like
the new majority party they might be, they may be the majority party. What is clear, though, is the people are going
to have a different kind of government. Ben Wattenberg: All right. Jim Pinkerton, formerly the deputy director
of policy for the Bush administration. James Pinkerton: Well, Gingrich has clearly
moved the bully pulpit from the White House to H.204 in the Capitol. He’s got enormous political momentum moving
him now. It remains to be seen if the policy agenda
that the contract touches on will equal the challenge and the mandate that he sought for
himself. Ben Wattenberg: Tom Mann, Brookings Institution. Thomas Mann: Americans don’t take very kindly
to revolutions. They’re a pragmatic, practical lot. They want government to get a little smaller,
work a lot better. But revolutions are for the French, not for
the Americans. Ben Wattenberg: All right, Bill Schneider
of CNN and my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute. William Schneider: Ben, I think there is a
new majority coalition that’s governing that’s really in power now in the United
States. It’s a diverse coalition of interests that
have one thing in common: They all have a grievance with big government. Middle-class taxpayers want lower taxes. Gun owners don’t want the federal government
to take their guns away. Racial backlash voters identify the federal
government with promotion of the civil rights agenda, and they’re getting a payoff with
the attack on affirmative action. Religious conservatives want less judicial
activism. Businesspeople want less regulation. They will hold together as long as they see
a liberal threat, which they did in Bill Clinton, and that’s why they materialized as a majority. As long as they perceive a liberal threat
out there, that coalition is going to hold together, and it’s going to be very powerful. Ben Wattenberg: All right, let me ask one
question now. We all live in this sort of insular community
that over the last 20 years or so has spotted a sea change each week — you know, “My
God, the world is changing.” Is it possible and plausible that this one
is for real? William Schneider: Forty years — 40 years
it’s been since the Republicans had control of both houses of Congress. That’s a pretty big change to me. James Pinkerton: I think it’s also fair
to say that people in their bones sense that bureaucratic organizations, whether it’s
the Soviet Union, IBM, or the federal government, are in the process of collapse and that that’s
— the sense of slow-motion panic that people feel over that is much of what underlay the
Republican victory in 1994, just like it caused Bush to lose in ’92. Jeffrey Eisenach: I’d second that and come
back to what Tom said. I think this is a very pragmatic revolution,
that what people have seen — since 1976, they have elected reformer after reformer
after reformer. Jimmy Carter was a reform president, was going
to bring in zero-based budgeting. Ronald Reagan promised to fix it all. Bush said he’d continue that. When Bush failed, they brought in Clinton;
he failed. What they have is they have a government that
is wildly out of step with everything they see working around them. And in that sense, I think this is very pragmatic,
but the change is not a small one. They’ve tried small changes. Thomas Mann: The old Democratic coalition
has been dead for a long time, Ben, and it hasn’t been able to muster a majority, really,
in presidential elections since Lyndon Johnson. But finally this time, they managed to lose
their base in the House of Representatives, so that is a major change. I think people are more skeptical of government. In a sense, they’re more inclined to think
of themselves as conservatives than liberals, and therefore there is an opportunity for
Republicans now. There is a real market for change. But Republicans run the risk of thinking Americans
are economic libertarians. They’re not ideologues; they’re pragmatists. They may be skeptical of government, but they’re
solicitous of government as well. And so we’re going to have to see whether
the Republicans seize the opportunity or, in fact, whether some more centrist solution,
one actually identified originally by Bill Clinton in his presidential campaign, manages
to move into that open space. Ben Wattenberg: Jeff, you are the president
of the Progress and Freedom Foundation. You have been a longtime associate of now-Speaker
Gingrich and a conservative spokesman. Could you tell us: What is the nature of this
particular modern conservatism? We’re sort of agreed that there is a sea
change. It’s a sea change toward what, if you had
your way or in your judgment? Jeffrey Eisenach: I think it’s a sea change
away from big bureaucratic, centralized institutions of government actually hiring people, spending
money to accomplish things, towards a government which is much leaner, but ultimately much
more effective and much less ambiguous. I mean, one of the things people know about
our bureaucracy is you can’t — it’s not that you get the wrong answer. It’s you can’t get any answer. There’s nothing out there but a sea of ambiguity. I think what this revolution will do, if it
works, is it will bring in a much clearer and cleaner sense of what the law is and how
it’s implemented. And that’ll happen a lot, I think, through
the tax code. It will happen with legal reform, with tort
reform, with regulatory reform, so that what you’ll end up with is a government which
works a lot better and is a lot smaller in terms of the number of people working for
it. Thomas Mann: But the rhetoric isn’t that
pragmatism. The rhetoric is: “Government is terrible. Let’s knock it down. Government is the problem.” Americans don’t think the Social Security
Administration is a big, bad bureaucracy. They think it works just fine in getting their
checks out to them on time. So sometimes the rhetoric of the Gingrich
revolution gets away from the realities of Americans’ encounters with that government. James Pinkerton: Tom, you’re peddling a
little bit of inside-the-Beltway wisdom here. I mean, look at the polls that show that young
people think that they’re more likely to find a UFO in their backyard than they are
to collect their Social Security. Ben Wattenberg: Maybe they’re right. [Laughter and cross talk.] Everything else is changing, right. James Pinkerton: Well, if that’s the case,
then the politicians who are defending a system that is going to rip off an entire generation
of young people are going to wind up with their heads on pikes before all is said and
done. Jeffrey Eisenach: But I’d say something
else, and that is — because I think your point’s well taken, but the welfare debate,
I think, was a major stepping-stone for this new majority. Because for a week of debate, you have Republican
after Republican stepping up and, instead of talking about how we’ve got to starve
a few kids to save a few dollars, which is what this party has been saying for 30 years,
you had the entire Republican Party standing up and saying, “We’re reforming welfare
to do the right thing.” William Schneider: Well, people want to solve
problems. I agree with Tom. They want to solve problems, and Bill Clinton
was elected with a mandate. He said he could make government work. He had people with impressive credentials,
long lists of degrees. They were very smart. He won on brain power. George Bush didn’t have a clue — sorry. But that was what elected Bill Clinton. This was the brain power. He was it. Ben Wattenberg: It was Pinkerton’s fault. We know that, right, right. [Laughter.] William Schneider: And the deal was, we want
this guy because he’s smart and he says he can make government work. The message in ’94 was it ain’t working. The Republicans were elected with a mandate
to solve problems with less government. They said, “We know how to solve these problems. We can do it with less government.” I think the skepticism that Tom is talking
about is sometimes they go towards the rhetoric of saying, “We’re going to fix things
even if they’re not broken.” That’s the image of the school lunch program. What’s broken there? And transportation and environmental protection. Ben Wattenberg: All right, let’s go over
some of the things that Republicans in this new conservative wave have been saying over
the years. One of the things — and we sort of dealt
with that — is “We’re going to get the government off our backs.” Everybody seems to be agreed that that at
least is a goal, although how far that would go remains to be seen. What about that one about ending the welfare
state? They have said this is — the contract is
going to roll back the welfare state. Is that going to — I mean, is this where
we’re headed? Thomas Mann: May I make a prediction? A hundred months from now, the Social Security
system will be paying out a lot more money than it is now. The Medicare program will be paying out a
lot more money than it is now, and welfare recipients will not be greatly changed from
what they are now. Republicans are promising a sort of withdrawal
from — in some respects — from this system will transform these recipients. And you know, the hard truth is it’s going
to take a lot of work and a lot of money to help get people on their feet and working
in jobs. And that requires even government administration
to get it done. Jeffrey Eisenach: This is standard liberal
dogma. I testified — Thomas Mann: No, it’s conservative. It’s called big-government conservative. Jeffrey Eisenach: No, excuse me. I testified today before the Banking Committee
on the question of how — the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And there were Joe Kennedy and Barney Frank
up there criticizing, in the most vehement, vicious terms, Henry Cisneros for trying to
move in the direction of vouchers and empowering people, essentially defending the old system. And they were making the point that Tom’s
making: Everything’s terrible. Things are going to remain terrible. Nothing that you can do to try and make things
better is going to make any — Thomas Mann: No, no. I’m not saying that. Jeffrey Eisenach: Well, you said there will
be just as many welfare recipients. Medicare won’t be — Thomas Mann: I mean, I support vouchers and
decentralization, and there’s much — Jeffrey Eisenach: Well, but none of it will
make a big difference. Ben Wattenberg: Tom, hold on. If in the year — if a hundred months from
now, in the year 2003, we have got the same welfare system, a disaster that everybody
across the spectrum agrees with that is harming people — forget the wasted money; that is
harming people — if we have the same sort of a welfare system, but a little bit less
in 2003, then this is no sea change. William Schneider: There’s the welfare system
and there’s the welfare state. The welfare system will be changed. Even President Clinton was elected on a mandate
to change the welfare system. James Pinkerton: Exactly. William Schneider: What the welfare state
means is entitlements. Now, that the Republicans have made some headway
towards at least trying to change. What has Clinton accomplished as president? Really, two things: deficit reduction — he
reduced the deficit by one-third every year — and free trade. Those are the two biggest items on his agenda. Those aren’t exactly radical. He got in trouble for what he — Ben Wattenberg: And not exactly Democratic. William Schneider: And not exactly Democratic. So why did he get in trouble? I’ve spoken to a lot of conservatives, and
they’ll always give you the same list: gays in the military, Lani Guinier in the Justice
Department, the economic stimulus plan, comprehensive health care reform, big new crime-prevention
spending, the energy tax. You know what? He got in trouble for things he proposed. He didn’t deliver a single one of those
things. And liberals were dismayed. They said, “We liked that agenda, but you
didn’t deliver any of it.” That’s why he was in so much trouble. He got in trouble because he proposed things
that sounded like big government. Look at health care reform. Jeffrey Eisenach: Absolutely. Ben Wattenberg: All right, hold on one second. You have touched on an interesting point here. We’re just kind of going through whether
we’re going to see the fulfillment of certain bits of this conservative rhetoric. We’ve talked about getting the government
of four backs. We’ve talked about rolling back the welfare
state. What is also said about this revolution is
that it is going to change from a social welfare state to a social police state, and we hear
stuff from mainstream Democrats and more liberal people that the fight against abortion, the
treatment of homosexuality, school prayer, pornography, TV censorship, that this is all
embedded, implicit in the Gingrich revolution. Comments. Jeffrey Eisenach: Not part of the majority
agenda. If the Republican Party chooses to be the
party of social oppression, it will not choose to be — it will be choosing not to be the
majority party, and I don’t believe that’s possible. William Schneider: The Republicans get in
trouble — they got in trouble, I think, in Houston when their convention was perceived
or interpreted — there’s a lot of discussion about whether it really was stigmatizing,
but it was perceived as stigmatizing. Democrats always made the mistake in the past
of glorifying unconventional minorities —homosexuals, single mothers. Republicans get in trouble when they seem
to stigmatize those same groups, and that’s why they want to steer clear of that. Religion is an issue that drives a wedge right
through the heart of that Republican coalition, just as race does to the Democrats. James Pinkerton: The Contract with America
was an explicitly secular document. There’s almost no reference of any kind
on abortion or anything like that. The only chance I think that Clinton has,
as Bill’s saying, is, you know, a few more Henry Fosters, you know, really could — the
Republicans could rise to the bait and say, “Aha, here’s our chance to take Houston
back into the people’s” — Ben Wattenberg: You think Henry Foster is
going to hurt the Republicans? James Pinkerton: I think there’s — the
danger of things like that is that it brings out, you know, the Christian coalition saying,
you know, “We’re against Henry Foster — and, by the way, we insist on an all pro-life
ticket in ’96.” William Schneider: He said it under pressure
from anti-abortion activists who are enraged by the nomination of Foster, and Clinton and
the Republicans didn’t really want to — the Republicans did not want to talk about abortion. And my guess is Ralph Reed didn’t either,
from what he subsequently wrote. He was forced into it because the anti-abortion
constituency was furious, outraged that the president would nominate a surgeon general
who had performed abortions. Jeffrey Eisenach: Ben, I do want to say this,
and that is, the Christian coalition, I believe, is a coalition of people who feel oppressed
by government imposing values on them that they disbelieve in very deeply. And what I believe they are looking for is
freedom, which is why education choice is so far at the top of the agenda, why they’re
pulling their kids out of schools and asking for their money back so they can do homeschooling. If that’s what the agenda is all about,
then I don’t think there is any conflict here at all. And I, frankly, just don’t see much of the
Christian coalition saying, “Here is the prayer your kids have got to say in school,
and we want to pass it into law.” William Schneider: That is the way they see
themselves. That’s not the way others see them. Jeffrey Eisenach: Absolutely. William Schneider: Others see them as attempting
to take over government to Christianize the country. Jeffrey Eisenach: Absolutely, that’s the
perception. Thomas Mann: Churchgoers are the most important
group within the Republican Party. Their interests are diverse, I agree with
you, but they will create a fissure within the Republican Party. It can’t be glossed over. The Republicans and the speaker did well in
the first hundred days in keeping these issues off to the side, but there will be demands
for votes on difficult issues that will at times divide the Republicans and potentially
cause problems in the presidential nominating politics. It’s a reality. But they are so important to the Republican
Party that they have to make peace with them. James Pinkerton: The issue for the Republicans
on education, both school prayer and school vouchers, is leadership. Somebody is going to have to get up and say
to the Christians — say, “Look, your idea of school prayer for everybody is not going
to work. The idea that will work is school vouchers.” And that argument has to be sold not only
to the Christian right but also to the rest of the country, which is impatient with the
stagnation of bureaucratic education in America. Ben Wattenberg: Let me ask you a question,
something we mentioned in the setup piece, this Tip O’Neill idea that all politics
is local. It occurs to me — you know, we all sort
of repeated that as a mantra for so many years. “Oh, all politics is local.” Of course, when you have a liberal majority
in the legislature, that becomes a very liberal statement. It says, if you take care of the person’s
Veterans Administration’s check, if you see to his Social Security check, you can
do any damn fool thing you want to in terms of national policy, which is what ultimately
got the Democrats in trouble. Now, with the apparent — underscore apparent
— nationalization of the Congress, does that then become a conservatizing movement
because you are talking issues, rather than did your VA check get delivered? William Schneider: Well, look, I think the
election was nationalized, principally, not by the contract, but by President Clinton. I think he was the central issue in all those
races. What happened was — Ben Wattenberg: But you can’t get the toothpaste
back in the tube. I mean, the next time we go around and have
national platforms, people are going to take them much more seriously. William Schneider: If the Republicans believe
they are going to get reelected without paying a lot of attention to constituency service,
they’re going to come in for a big surprise. Ben Wattenberg: No, I agree. Thomas Mann: Politics is always a combination
of local and national forces. National became more prominent in ’94 for
a host of reasons. In ’96, Republicans are going to do well
in the elections for the House and the Senate, partly on the basis of their strength locally
— good candidates, lots of money, and a story to tell. James Pinkerton: Let’s understand that a
guy like Tip O’Neill could get away with saying, “All politics is local,” because
he was operating within the paradigm that Franklin Roosevelt had set up. What Gingrich is trying to do is — well,
the paradigm has already crashed. The Democratic paradigm has crashed. What the Republicans are trying to do is create
their own paradigm so that equally ordinary, run-of-the-mill Republican politicians — Ben Wattenberg: Everybody here seems to be
convinced that the Democratic paradigm has crashed and so on and so forth. On the other hand, as we speak, the polls
for Clinton are going up. The polls against Gingrich are — the negatives
are very high. The Democrats have launched a rhetorical counteroffensive
about that this is really a war on kids, they’re balancing the budgets on the backs of the
poor, they’re taking away school lunches. Isn’t it plausible that just politically
we are way out ahead of our supply lines and that the Democrats are going to come back
with this stuff and terrorize the country about taking away your school lunches? The old ketchup argument with Reagan. Jeffrey Eisenach: The notion that Washington,
DC, is going to get too far out in front of the American people is so silly on its face
that — [laughter] — but the truth is I don’t think the numbers show that by any
stretch of the imagination. There were two polls in the last two weeks
that were very important and very under-attended to. The LA Times came out with a poll the same
week that The Washington Post poll came out that scared everybody saying that people were
running away from the Republican contract. The LA Times the same week came out with a
poll showing that 46 percent of Americans thought Republicans weren’t cutting enough,
compared to 14 percent who thought they were cutting too much; 29 percent thought they
were doing about the right thing. Three to one, not cutting enough. Next week you have a poll from Times-Mirror. In December 1993, 12 percent of Americans
wanted an independent presidential candidate. December 1994, 18 percent. March 1995, that number is up to 23 percent. I think those two numbers are related. I think people are looking at Washington,
and the question they’re asking isn’t “Are these people going too far?” The question they are asking is “Are they
doing enough?” William Schneider: Are they solving the problems? I mean, Clinton was elected to make government
work. People said he didn’t. The Republicans were elected to solve problems
with less government. They’re solving some problems, I agree — welfare,
unfunded mandates. They’re creating other problems. People don’t know why they’re attacking
the school lunch program. That’s becoming like midnight basketball. It’s a symbol of going too far. So I think Clinton may very well run the next
election — you were suggesting that the Democrats are not sunk — as a gigantic midterm
election in reverse. Democrats used to get elected and reelected
repeatedly during the 1980s because they would say, “You got Reagan in there. You got Bush. They may go too far. You got to elect us to make sure there’s
a check and a balance.” Clinton may run a campaign, to the dismay
of his Democratic colleagues in Congress, and say, “You’re pretty happy with the
way the Republican Congress is going, but they threaten to go too far; you’ve got
to keep me in there with my veto pen to make sure that doesn’t happen.” Ben Wattenberg: All right, let me — we are
running out of time. I want to go around the horn one more time
with the stipulation that no one, except perhaps me, knows the future and hear from you an
answer to the basic theme of this program, which is: Is this the beginning of a new conservative
era? And we’ll start with you, Jeff. Jeffrey Eisenach: Absolutely. A hundred months from now, government, the
federal government will be at or below 15 percent of gross domestic product, compared
with 22 percent today. A new majority party will be controlling both
houses of Congress and the White House, probably the Republican Party. That remains to be seen. And we will be seeing, I think, dramatically
faster economic growth. We will be seeing dramatic drops in the number
of people on welfare, and, by the way, Social Security will have been fundamentally reformed
because it has to be. James Pinkerton: We’re in post-bureaucratic
era. It remains to be seen whether the Republicans
or the Democrats can fill this void left by this crash of big government. The other question is: Can a conservative
movement, which is in fact a right-wing movement, impose the kind of leadership that takes the
country forward? Ben Wattenberg: Tom Mann, yeah, go ahead. Thomas Mann: The Republicans have an opportunity
to build a new majority in this country, but to do it they have to deliver. And delivering means dealing with the root
causes of insecurity and anxiety that Americans feel. I am not persuaded that simply saying, “less
government” will solve that problem. Americans are not ideologues. Republicans in Congress right now are. Until they demonstrate that they can deliver
in a practical sense, they will lose that opportunity. Ben Wattenberg: Bill Schneider. William Schneider: I agree with Tom. I think that the Republicans have an opportunity. We are entering a conservative era, and I
don’t think we’re going to go back to big government. But suppose they don’t solve the problems
they were elected to solve, or create new problems? What are Americans going to do? Well, I think they’re showing two kinds
of responses. One is, if they figure the Democrats —they’re
very skeptical that the Democrats can make government work, and the Republicans cannot
solve problems with less government. They’re going to say, “What we have to
do is get the politicians out of there.” That’s why Perot was very attractive. You want to make government work? Get the politics out of government is the
popular belief. Colin Powell is very popular these days — the
same appeal that Ross Perot had. Not a professional politician, knows how to
get things done. A revolt against politics is in the offing. The other thing they do is solve their problems
for themselves. They move to suburbs, and they buy their own
governments that they can control and put walls around themselves. They have their own schools, their own police,
their own fire departments. They buy a private government. That’s another solution. Ben Wattenberg: All right. In other words, “We’re going to get under
the hood and fix it.” Thank you, Bill Schneider, Jeffrey Eisenach,
Tom Mann, and Jim Pinkerton. And thank you. Please send your comments or questions
to New River Media, 1150 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036. Or we can be reached via email at [email protected] For “Think Tank,” I’m Ben Wattenberg. Announcer: This has been a production of BJW
Inc., in association with New River Media, which are solely responsible for its content.

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