It is an August summer night in Chicago. The Democrat President stands at the podium to accept his party’s nomination. He begins by telling the adoring crowd, “I still believe in a place called Hope.”
He then proudly recounts the remarkable legislative achievements of his first term. His list is punctuated with cheers from the adoring throng filling the hall.
Each one has been passed by the United States House within the first 100 days of the new Congress and each subsequently approved by the Senate.
This gifted politician is well aware of the benefit of taking credit for a sweeping legislative agenda that had such overwhelming support from the American people. It was fair that he claimed credit. Indeed, it was he who signed each piece into law.
He explained that he had “pursued a simple but profound strategy.” That it was. It just wasn’t his.
President Clinton’s first 100 days consisted of unpopular tax increases, the gays in the military debacle, the firings of the loyal employees in the White House travel office, the Zoe Baird fiasco, Bosnia, Haiti, Waco, an uncooperative Congress, a secretive health-care task force, a job-approval rating of 45 percent, with a disapproval rate to match-- not the stuff of which great speeches are made.
But two years after that inauspicious start, the profound strategy of which he now boasted, had emerged.
Republicans, led by a former college professor from Georgia, had presented a plan for change to the American people.
Known as the “Contract with America” the plan, naturally, became within certain circles a controversial document.
The GOP establishment with its consultants and operatives were openly hostile.
Bold pledges with measureable performance standards were nowhere in either their lexicon or strategies.
Their years of expertise in timidity caused them to bellow against “saddling” their candidates with clear positions on issues. Knowledgeable of tactics yet ignorant of principle, they knew only how to run popularity contests that ended up with the same result year after year – failure. Their argument was to stay the course.
Newt Gingrich disagreed.
By the force of his intellect and will, Newt proclaimed that the American people would embrace a bold positive agenda for change.
They did and he prevailed.
In an event on the steps of Capitol Hill, 325 Congressional candidates and those seeking reelection, pledged their honor by signing the Contract with America.
They promised to approve ten broad legislative initiatives in the first 100 days if the American people would choose, for only the third time in 64 years, a Republican majority in the US House of Representatives.
The Contract with America had such popular appeal that most GOP candidates for US Senate embraced it and campaigned on its promises.
In Massachusetts, support for the Contract was to swell the Republican delegation in Congress to the largest in a generation. Even Ted Kennedy fell behind his popular opponent until that Republican mysteriously called the Contract ‘a mistake” separating himself from the Congressional candidates who were to march with it to victory.
Indeed, the Contract lead to the Republicans capturing the majority in both chambers of Congress for the first time in more than four decades.
The agenda for change so dominated the nation’s hopes that following their 100 days President Clinton used a major press event to proclaim the he was “still relevant”.
Indeed he was. In a masterstroke of political sagacity, Clinton embraced the Republican agenda making it his own. He signed into law the Republican items that he now trumpeted in his 1996 acceptance speech to the cheers of Democrats.
True to their word, the Republican Congress had sent to his desk the Contract with America pledges of:
A balanced budget
Increased investments in defense
A $5,000 adoption tax credit ($6,000 for children with disabilities)
A tax cut for small businesses
Line item veto
Ending unfunded mandates to state and local governments
Health care insurance deductibility
That is the stuff of which great platforms (and speeches) are made and the formerly irrelevant president decidedly won a second term.
Let us now fast forward to 2010.
Will Republicans throw away their memos on how to doublespeak and instead present bold initiatives to calm the nation’s fears and restore its confidence?
Will they pledge to unshackle free-market solutions the health insurance mess that makes employers buy what every American could far better choose on their own?
Will they pledge to remove the heavy boot of government from the oxygen hose of energy production that could once again make the US the most cost effective spot on the planet to produce goods?
The desires of the great American people are clear.
The only question we face is will America be forced to trudge down the Left’s road of manipulation, scarcity, apologies and fear or, will a bold Republican contract for free enterprise, prosperity, and abundance once again light up that shining city on a hill for all the world to behold?
Former Congressman Bob McEwen is the chairman of Newt Gingrich’s Renewing American Leadership organization.
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