Kevin Phillips

Phillips is the editor of “The American Political Report,” and the author of <i>Arrogant Capital</i>.

Q: How has this GOP Congress differed from traditional Republicans?

A: Everything about it suggested it would be a more radical, frustration-based Congress.

First, the party system was coming somewhat unglued and the public wanted something to happen. Gingrich sensed that if the Republicans didn’t go in a radical, quasi-revolutionary direction, they were likely to be pulled apart by these radicalizing forces. They thought they had to do something pretty spectacular to avoid further cynicism about the system. What they did was spectacular in a miscalculated way. It aggravated cynicism.

Second, the Republicans were elected in a reaction against Clinton. If you start doing screwy stuff, within a year and a half, you’ve rescued the guy you thought was buried in shit.

Third, in the last 45 years, Republicans have held power through the presidency: Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush. The occasional Republican Congress — for example, the Senate under Reagan — was still subordinate to executive-branch Republicanism. This is the first time since 1947-48 that we’ve had a Republican Congress without a Republican executive branch. And that means the dogs are out of the cage. ThatÕs what happened back in ’47-’48, too. That was the Congress Truman ran against so successfully. It tried to pass a business agenda, cut taxes for the upper brackets, and put a whammy on educational and health possibilities.

Fourth, it may be too much to call Newt a megalomaniac, but he’s clearly a hypomaniac. There’s no way he was ever going to pursue the humdrum model of past House speakers like Sam Rayburn or Carl Albert. He couldn’t stay out of the spotlight, and he had something ridiculous to say half the time he got on camera.

Q: What corporate interests have been pushing the Gingrich revolt?

A: The Gingrich crowd represents midsized business and emerging buccaneering business, as opposed to long-established, smooth multinationals. An awful lot of the business types who got their tickets punched with this Congress are the people with little niche insurance companies that cherry-pick the health market, or people who pump out penny stocks and don’t want to have to make any statement as to their worth, or people who have pollution problems — little to midsized businesses with a particular problem that Congress could take care of. The Gingrich revolution was not about the white-shoe crowd at an old-line brokerage firm.

Q: What’s an issue that’s come up that illustrates the difference?

A: They grossly overplayed their hand on tort liability and deregulation and all the tax cuts they thought they could get. The typical view of a big-business lobbyist is, “We got lucky, we got a Republican Congress, but let’s not pretend we’ve got a mandate for this stuff. Let’s just figure out what we can take advantage of.”

But these new Republican semi-power brokers handed out a lot of money for these trade associations nobody had ever heard of before. They thought they were big wheeler-dealers, and they were holding meetings with each other and talking about how they were going to force corporations to hire two-thirds Republicans or they wouldn’t do business with them. They overplayed their hand big time. They had never had any significant power in Washington before. They were just grabbing.

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