They’re They’re: The Rise of Republican Nation
January 10, 1995
THERE HE WAS on television again. But this time, Newt Gingrich wasn’t lecturing us on the evil of our countercultural ways. He was introducing Boys Town, as if to reassure us that what he has in mind for the dispossessed is no worse than the tough love Father Flanagan dispensed on the silver screen. But wasn’t Gingrich hosting the wrong movie? Shouldn’t it have been Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Isn’t his vision of America what that film is all about?
THE REPUBLICAN REVOLUTION isn’t just a shift in the way government does business. It’s a transformation in the way people feel. It begins with permission to be indifferent to the needy. It proceeds to venting rage on the transgressors. And it ends in blind devotion to the order, represented as freedom. The real power is invisible — something out there in the galactic recesses of big capital. Those who detect the change in their neighbors are soon replaced. The rest are invited to fall into a soft slumber. Not only will they feel better, but the whole place will work better. Why, even the helpless ones will awake improved.
IN THIS SPECIAL ISSUE, five Voice writers refuse to shut their eyes. J. Hoberman probes beneath the surface of politics to where the American dreamlife resides. There he finds a president whose failure to meet the people’s need for punishment has created Newt Gingrich, Clinton’s evil twin. James Ridgeway describes the real agenda behind the Republican Contract: Curb regulators, cut back Congress, humiliate the president — and in the process, cripple the federal government. Robert Fitch shows how the current consensus on welfare reform echoes 19th-century campaigns to criminalize the poor: At its root, then and now, is the business cycle. Ann Powers takes on the left’s critique of itself, focusing on the much maligned practice of symbolic politics that, she maintains, is the key to survival in hard times. And Michael Feingold offers prayers for Christian children unlikely to be recited in the teacher’s presence.
AFTER 20 YEARS of backlash and stagnation, the pods that were so diligently planted are beginning to sprout. It’s hard to be a humanist in Republican Nation. Just to express pity is to risk humiliation. That’s how subtle, and how rational, the transformation seems. And that’s why an ominous sense of the possible is so important now.
THIS IS NO TIME to go gentle into that Newt night. Better to stand out on the highway, flagging down cars if you must, to shout out a warning. Even at the risk of seeming ridiculous, or dangerous, or deviant. Stand up and say, “They’re heeeere!”
[Editor’s note: When we first re-posted this article, prior to the 2018 midterm elections, we thought it would be helpful for voters to remember just how far back Trumpism goes in the GOP. Below, find the cover key we wrote at that time.]
Rush Limbaugh’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: Key to Cover Collage
1) Pat Robertson: Elfin evangelical demagogue; now a vocal Trump supporter
2) George Pataki: Callous “Empty Suit” governor of New York, 1995–2006. In 2016 he said, “I think Donald Trump would drive the Republicans off a cliff if he’s our nominee.” Was floated as possible ambassador to Hungary; still awaiting call from his president.
3) William Bennett: Pedantic, anti–public education secretary of education. In 1993 he wrote The Book of Virtues; in 2016 he threw it out to support Trump.
4 & 5) Two Hollywood actors from long ago — starred in an idealized movie the GOP views as template for the handling of unruly children
6) Oliver North: Bagman for murderous South American counterrevolutionaries; now president of the National Rifle Association
7) Marilyn Quayle: The brains of the family (see #23)
8) Rush Limbaugh: Rotund forefather of Infowars. On-air bloviator since he was 16, in 1967.
9) Pat Buchanan: Onetime Nixon speechwriter, political godfather of Trumpism; vocal supporter of the POTUS
10) Arnold Schwarzenegger: Muscles-for-brains governor of California (2003–11); married into Kennedy clan — it didn’t work out. Likens GOP under Trump to the Titanic, though rest of his party is hell-bent on melting all the world’s icebergs.
11) VJ Kennedy (no relation): Used to be on MTV; now on Fox Business Network
12) Clarence Thomas: Supreme Court justice who mocks Thurgood Marshall’s soaring achievements every time he gets out of bed
13) Tom Foley: Former Democratic Speaker of the House; drowned in 1994 Red Wave, first Speaker to lose re-election bid in more than a century. Died 2013.
14) Mario Cuomo: Vacillating Democratic New York governor (1983–94) who died in 2015, and is best remembered now for having a bridge named after him
15) Bill Clinton: Democratic POTUS who was at least better than having George H.W. Bush, Ross Perot, or Bob Dole as president from 1993 to 2001
16) Dan Rostenkowski: Democratic virtuoso of the pork barrel. In 1996 was sentenced to seventeen months in prison after involvement in a mail fraud scandal; pardoned by #15 in 2000.
17) Jesse Helms: Unabashed racist senator from North Carolina who fought against voting rights for minorities at every turn; cultural warrior who decried Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic pictures: “The news media’s intellectual dishonesty in calling this perverse, filthy, and revolting garbage, calling it art does not make it art.” Died 2008.
18) Bob Dole: Wounded vet, U.S. senator from Kansas; last Republican on national scene with genuine sense of humor. Supported current president by saying, in 2016, “What am I going to do? I can’t vote for George Washington.”
19) Newt Gingrich: GOP Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999, apparently named for an ingredient in a witch’s brew — his policy proposals were unrelentingly toxic. Now a rabid Trump booster.
20) Al D’Amato: Republican senator from New York (1981–99) known for fixing potholes and putting the fix into any progressive legislation. Supports Trump, but lightly admonishes the POTUS to “think, don’t tweet.”
21) Mary Matalin: Republican operative famously married to Democratic operative James Carville. Claims they never talk politics at home. Changed her party registration to Libertarian in 2016.
22) Arianna Huffington: Wealthy former wife of former Republican congressman. Proof that people can change for the better.
23) Dan Quayle: Handsome trust fund–supported Indiana senator 1981–89, vice president 1989–93; very poor speller
24) Calvin Coolidge: President from 1923 to 1929. Forget ideals and compassion — America’s raison d’être is turning a profit. —R.C. Baker