Democrats are talking about stirring up the spirits of 1994, the year the Republicans won control of congress. 2006 and 1994 are similar. In both years the majority in power had become highly unpopular. In 1994 the Democrats had been in control of congress for 40 years. That all changed when the Republicans unveiled a little document I like to call the Contract With America.
The Contract with America became a lightning rod for Republicans and showed America that at least one group in congress wanted change. The Contract promised to implement ten bills to reform government, largely dealing with fiscal responsibility, welfare reform, and crime, all designed to ultimately help low and middle class Americans. Most people who voted the Republicans into power did not even know what was contained in the Contract. What was more important was that it served as a rallying cry for conservative voters.
Will the Democrats issue a similar strategy in 2006? Most experts agree that the Contract With America was a moment in history, likely only to succeed once. And even its track record is often debated. But there is no doubt about its historical significance, vaulting the Republican Party into power in congress. After-which Republicans tried to implement the contract, as promised, within the first 100 days.
The most successful item was arguably welfare reform, eventually signed by President Bill Clinton. A $500 per child tax credit was also approved, which has since been doubled, and defense spending has increased. But the contract also exacerbated partisan tensions. The balanced budget amendment was not approved and the federal deficit is higher than ever.
The Contract stood for things most Americans believe in: responsible government, responsible lives, helping out businesses and families, but in the end did it reach these goals? Did the Contract help out those mid and low income families it promised to?
Cutting welfare and raising crime punishment seem only encourage a problem. Many experts believe that poverty and crime are strongly linked. As stated on www.crime.org, "Poverty often leads to the problem of homelessness. Those who live on the streets often experience hunger and disease making them more likely to resort to committing theft and burglary as a means to eat or obtain medicine." And later it says, "Education can help eradicate poverty, which will in turn reduce the crime rate." And so, the legacy of the Contract is very debatable. Want to be tough on crime? Those who study it suggest trying more social programs, not less.
There is no doubt that a better economy and good social programs help eliminate inequality and crime, so is our economy better off with ballooning spending and selling off America to foreign investors to pay for it? It being tax day, I want to know, would you rather have your tax money spent on Iraq or helping out fellow Americans like those in New Orleans, which is one small section of the disparaging conditions existing across our country, conditions which cut at the American dream for many.
Twelve years later the Contract has largely been forgotten among the general public. But one thing that is assuredly agreed upon is it served its purpose in getting Republicans into power, and they have never looked back.There are, of course, more than a few signs that history may be about to change. The exiting of Tom DeLay for campaign finance issues is a major blow not only to Republican power but to their claim of being the more responsible of the two parties. This was a major tenant of the Contract, and many cite DeLay as an example of what has gone wrong with the Republican majority, to say nothing of the values of the Contract.
And then there is President Bush, who has expanded the size of government rapidly. He has not vetoed a single bill as president. Republicans used to point fingers at Democrats for their “tax and spend” policies, now many Democrats cite the Republicans for just spending, while granting tax cuts. Indeed, with Republican controlled legislative and executive branches, the ideals of small government have long been forgotten. Many point to the sluggish response by FEMA as the byproduct of this. Critics call FEMA bloated, a massive entity unable to perform the very functions it was created for. Do conservatives long for their small government ideals now? It doesn’t appear so. Many seem happy with whatever keeps them in power; small government or large government.
Many are talking about the Contract with America, and wondering if the Democrats will produce a similar document to bring disparate ideas together under one banner and solidify their base. But the Contract was simply the response to a specific situation, a chance to seize a political opportunity. In the end its actual positive results are debated, and many see it as having lost its way once the Republicans gained power. Many want the Democrats to do the same thing: seize an opportunity. But the question to be asked is what is best for the country? Are the answers found in political power games?
Darwinism applies in the arena of politics: the party that adapts to conditions the fastest wins. This was the case with Republicans in 1994, and in every election year after. They have simply been the better animal, stronger and quicker. Ironic that in the party where many do not believe in evolution, that process has been the secret to their own success. The Democrats continually lag behind. But maybe the Republicans have gotten too big, and thus too confident and slow, political Dinosaurs. Some of us pray for a metaphorical asteroid to bring about some real, positive change.