the long march of newt gingrich

Interview Pat Schroeder

Image of Pat Schroeder Q: You would grant that the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, would seem to be a man of ideas?

Schroeder: Well, he certainly tries to draw that impression for himself. The very interesting thing is that when you first hear him spout out all his ideas, you think that's interesting. Then the next time you hear it, it sounds almost the same. Then you start thinking about it and you think, can you connect the dots? And they don't connect. He kind of just fire-hoses you with a whole range of issues and bits and pieces of information. It's almost like electric shock to the body. There's no way that it hangs together or fits as an ideology. I think we've had many speakers with lots of ideas, to be perfectly honest. But they haven't been out trying to market them twenty-four hours a day. They've been trying to run the House instead of trying to market their ideas. He has interesting ideas but they seem to be different from what's going on inside the House. You're not quite sure; it's almost dysfunctional. It's not attached and he doesn't attach them either.

Q: So you think that it's lacking a kind of connective, philosophical [tissue]? Is there, in your mind, such a thing as a Gingrich philosophy? His idea of American Civilization for example?

Schroeder: Oh my. I would start at the Gingrich Philosophy which is, I think, to promote Newt Gingrich. That's his philosophy. His idea of civilization becomes a very strange one. He talks about people having honeymoons on the moon. He talks about getting lap-top computers for every child in America's schools and at the same time you're cutting school lunches. So if you don't have money for school lunches and if you're throwing kids on a head-start, where are you going to get the money for the lap-tops? And if you're gunning the science programs in the schools, what are these kids going to do with the lap-tops? You're going to need science teachers and people who will teach you how to use them. It's not just getting the equipment. They need somebody who can instruct them and have all this fit into a context. He just rapid fires all that out. But it doesn't add up and it doesn't compute when you put a pencil to it.

Q: But I wonder, as a political opponent of the current speaker, to what degree would you grant his efficacy as a speaker? He has surprised many by his ability to run the institution.

Schroeder: I think the interesting question is -- who do you run the place for? And Tip O'Neill, he thought he was really running it for the people. People may say that sounds really arrogant, but I think Tip O'Neill really understood America as family. He really felt America as family. He felt pain if he thought we couldn't do enough for young kids through whatever was going on, or America's seniors or whatever. I think other speakers, to some lesser degree, have had that same amount of compassion. Newt has run this like a machine and he has run it for Newt. I think he's been selling the speakership in a way that, to me, is very brazen. He's out doing book sales, taking the Capital Hill police with him, shuffling around with this entourage. He's then whining about the fact that the President didn't talk to him on the plane coming back from the Rabin funeral. But he's the only guy that got to take his wife. Mrs. Bush didn't get to go and the reason was that his wife had business in Israel. I find that really smarts. Tip O'Neill would never insist that his wife go on a foreign mission to a funeral because of business, nor would any of the other speakers that I've served under.

So, it's a nuance. It's a matter of degree. Yeah, I suppose you can do that; it's legal maybe. I hope. I don't know. It doesn't sound very ethical to me. But it's just so brazen and so out there. The reason he has rammed things through here is what he's been doing for the entire time he got here -- sending out training tapes, trying to get people to run, hyping them all this stuff that he did through his GOPAC, his group that he put together, so that when they come here it's really clear that they're the lieutenants and he's the general and he will have them march. And he's convinced them that this is an evil city and you don't want to be here any longer than you have to. You come and vote fast and do what I tell and then get out of town. None of them stand up to him. If he says eat the right foot, they start eating the right foot; they don't even add salt unless they're given permission.

So, if you really want that kind of efficiency machine, fine. Prior speakers in the Democratic Party listened to Republicans and listened to Democrats. And they never had all the Democrats vote with them and they clearly never had all the Republicans vote with them. But they had a concept --this country was very complex, it's very difficult to wrap yourself around both Mississippi and Alaska, Hawaii and California and Maine. So, you needed to listen. They didn't have this self-confidence, you could say, or you could say arrogance, that they knew everything and therefore you were the only one anybody needed to listen to. They realized that they got elected from the district no bigger than mine. No speaker ever gets elected from a district any bigger than any other members. Isn't that interesting?

Q: There has been an aspect of party loyalty particularly among the young, new members that's rather astonishing. And obviously it was for practical, perhaps even cynical reasons, but turning the institution on its head in terms of committee assignments and all of that pays off, doesn't it, when it comes down to voting?

Schroeder: This is a man who has figured out how to exercise power. In other words, he said no Republican gets to vote on who's the next chairman, which is how we do it on the Democratic side. We're not going to do it on seniority, which is how we used to do it. [He said,] 'I'm going to pick.' Well now, if you suddenly let the Speaker of the House pick all the people who get to be chairman then of course there's going to be discipline on his side. And you have just changed the whole way that you rip the body. On our side, under prior speakers, for every bill you had to go around and talk to members and find out where they were on the idea, the idea that everybody brought a different perspective and we should listen. This speaker, no, no, no. If you're going to deviate from the speaker's line then you've got to get permission from the speaker otherwise your head's going to be on a tray. Your committee chairmanship could be taken away.

So, you now have this very interesting thing where you have the committee chairmen saying, 'I hate this bill; I don't believe in this but I'm voting for it.' I have people everyday saying that they hate what they're doing and that it's awful but they're voting for it. And you think, 'What did you do? Did you all have spine removals? Did you all turn into jellyfish?' But the reality is that no they haven't. But Newt has taken all that power for himself and they let him do it.

Q: In anticipating the prospect --which I gather you still consider a possibility if not a probability-- of another Democratic majority, is there anything for Democrats to take from this term, this speakership, as lessons of government?

Schroeder: I hope they don't buy into his power. I think power for power's sake is wrong and I think that's why Newt's ratings are falling so rapidly. I think the American people understand that Congress is a messy process. That's because it's a bloody difficult country to hold together. We just looked at Canada almost blown apart to the north of us. Who expected that? This Congress was really not about having a king speaker or a boss speaker. It really is about trying to put together a consensus that somehow is going to be as fair in Denver, Colorado as it is in Anchorage, as it is in wherever.

All the wisdom in the world doesn't come out of the speaker's district and out of the speaker's mind. I know how to do that. It's no secret. Everybody knows how to do that. Back in the 1800s we had some speakers that acted like that, but they were rebellions. This country decided that they didn't want that anymore. I don't think that just because you can do that and just because it's efficient. I can give you a lot of governments that are really efficient, but I don't think the American people are going to sign up for them. I think it's a good way to only breed more and more discontent with the government.

Q: We came close to the edges of a question that has been central to Newt's recent [centrality] of the matter of ethics. Jeff Eisenach, one of his long-time aides --we were talking to him about the whole business of the ethics charges against the speaker. His exact words, I think, were, 'Monkey see monkey do.' Newt did it against them. And now, of course, they're turning around just trying to play the same game with Newt. How much of it is genuine ethical questions and how much of it is 'that's the biggest guy on the other side of the hill?'

Schroeder: Look, I'm a lawyer by trade, and the one thing I know is that you don't draw conclusions without having seen the facts. The only thing I know is there's six or seven ethics charges piled up at the door of the ethics committee. And we've now waited eleven months and nothing's happened. In every other instance the Ethics Committee has moved and gotten an outside council to investigate them. That's the normal procedure. And I think that the speaker should be just as subject to the normal procedure as any member. I think the problem is that the Ethics Committee has not acted on these. They've really been kind of stonewalling them and the stench starts to grow. If there is nothing then why not move towards getting a special council on them? Why allow this to back up and have a cloud over the whole capital, which is what we're getting by not acting on that.

So, that's my thing. I don't know how you try a case if you haven't heard the case. I haven't heard the case. But I do know that there's a lot of stuff over there at the front door. Denial is not a river in Egypt. It is a thing going on down in the House of Representative's Ethics Committee --they are in a total state of denial about everything that's backed up at the door.

Q: I asked you earlier, I wanted to ask you about your work in the Armed Services Committee. It is an area in which Newt has been involved almost from the time he arrived in Congress. There is a sense, we have picked up from speaking to military people, that Newt is either author or co-author of our military view. I'd like to ask you, first of all, how much credit do you think Newt personally should get for the nature of our military and its recent success in terms of its efficiency and, in general, its standing in the American mind?

Schroeder: Newt's never served on the Armed Services Committee. He never served in the Armed Services. His military record and mine are exactly the same. To now suddenly perceive him as the master stroke behind all of this --I don't think so.

He is the author, I guess, of this tremendous budget of defense, even more than the Joint Chiefs asked for. This Congress never did that even during the Cold War. You have the President, the Joint Chiefs, the Pentagon budget. And they said, 'that's not enough; we're going to add another eight billion,' at the same time that we're pulling money out of college loans for students and Head-start and everything else. We're going to add eight billion. And it's all for weapon systems. No one ever knows when we're going to use them. B2 bombers, nuclear submarines, deploy Star Wars. You didn't see any of that stuff in the Gulf War, you didn't see it in Somalia, you won't see it in Bosnia if we go in there.

I think it's a big pay back time for military contractors. His district has more defense and federal money shoe-horned than any place in America. It's interesting that he hates government spending except in his district. I think if you mean he's really pushed these add-ons, that even the Pentagon didn't want, to pay back contractors -- yes.

Q: There was the sense that he, along with Gary Hart of Colorado and others, literally helped sort of map out what the military should be and that's probably not your...

Schroeder: That is revisionist history. Gary Hart and many others, including myself --there was a reform military caucus that was in there. But I never remember seeing Newt around it or playing any kind of an important role in it at that time. He was out busy throwing bombs all over the floor and screaming and yelling at people.

Q: Was there ever a moment when there was, personally between you and he, when there was a, what you call, 'collegiality'? Have you all always gotten along? Have you found him any different than other members in that regard?

Schroeder: I have really always found Newt very difficult, to be perfectly honest. He can be charming one second but you always have the feeling that he would be telling you a joke as he took his hand behind your back and shoved you into the wall or wherever he decided you should be shelved. He never turned off that partisan button really. He would try to kind of fluff up his personality or try to look warm and fuzzy by holding a little animal or whatever. But one of the national news magazines said it best. He's standing there with a baby and he's saying, 'Newt, kiss the baby and hold...'; he lectured the baby. So that kind of loses it. It's last minute and you realize that the sharp edge is still there.

Here's a man who blames the Democrats for Susan Smith, for heaven sakes, and a man who just has made all sorts of savage attacks on people. Yet, if anybody questions his policy he says they're being personal. I find that very interesting that he was the leader of attacking Kitty Dukakis for being a drug addict, if you remember that. That's a very personal, nasty, awful thing. We question his policies on medicare, we question his statements on medicare and he starts screaming, 'these are savage personal attacks.' To me, those were attacks on the policy. We're not attacking him as a person, discussing his eating habits or lack of eating habits or his marriage habits or any of those things. I don't know any Democrat that has been out spouting that. But he just is no [holds barred.]

As a consequence, I must say, there's never been a moment where I ever felt any collegiality toward him. I always had the feeling that he would eat his young if he thought it was going to help Newt Gingrich. It's a terrible thing to say but you just have that feeling that he's so into power and so uptight that you wouldn't trust him any further than you could throw him. And as you can tell, I can't throw him anywhere.

Q: You are a feminist and to some degree you've been an out-front spokesperson on behalf of women in this body as well as a larger scene. I wonder what you think, Congresswoman, of the new rather poignantly ideological women on the --what are they called-- femi-Newties? They are women in politics that we've been seeking...

Schroeder: Well, I say beware of wolves in designer clothing. What can I say? That whole issue about women is, again, can they stand up and be independent? And Newt adores women as long as they will be cheerleaders for his policy. But he doesn't really want them making the policy, thank you, or criticizing the policy. So, if they're proud of being femi-Newties, it's America --let them be proud of being femi-Newties, fine. I only say, the women I'm proud of are the women that stand in their own right and aren't femi-anything. They're standing for what they believe is right and they listen to people and make that determination day by day. But they're not some ideologue or cheerleaders for an ideology or whatever. I think that people want us to see women as full players and not as just team cheerers.

Q: Do you think that there might be a Newt backlash?

Schroeder: I think there's got to be a Newt backlash if the American people have their brain engaged at all. Because the message is, if you elect a Republican you're just getting another voting card for Newt Gingrich. Because this class has so totally surrendered all power to Newt that the all powerful boss Newt can pick and choose what committees you're on, where you go. He picks for everybody. What that really means is you get elected and you come here, ha, ha, ha. If you are going to get anything done, you're just going to have to surrender your voting card and do that.

So I think everybody's going to see that as one more voting card for Newt. And that is going to be very, very difficult. The only way you can change that is if Newt starts giving up his power. Is he going to back up and not have a knife over the head of every chairman and give up his right to pick the chairman? And do it like we do, have them have to be elected? I don't think so. Is he going to give up all of those rights that he's gotten? I don't think so. So, how do you run as a Republican candidate? How do you run as a Republican candidate and differentiate yourself from Newt? You can say, well I don't want him in here campaigning. Well, people will just say, you don't want to make the identity. But we can wash them all into Newt and it's all very legitimate because all these guys have been washed into Newt. The only time they get to vote against him is when he gives them permission. So people are going to figure that out

Q: Doesn't the success of the Republicans in '94 and doesn't the success as speaker suggest that liberalism is, if not dead, in trouble?

Schroeder: This country goes through different ideologies, you know...I think we're coming out of what we went into. This means the 80s --when the message of the decade was 'Get what you can and can what you get and sit on the can. Boy, that's where everybody was supposed to be. And I'm not paying any taxes, and I'm not helping those folks and I'm not doing anything. And I think '94 was the final peak of that. I think now people are beginning to say, 'Wait a minute, wait a minute,' as we watched Canada, as we watched Bosnia, we watched all these things.

What is the community of America really about? Is this just a place where people come to make money? Or is this a place where, yes, we try and have a very healthy business climate but we also care about each other? And if we find two didn't eat all their lunch, do we then cancel the lunch program? Or if we find that three students didn't repay their loans, do we cancel all student loans for the future? Or do we decide that one Head Start program wasn't good so we kill them all? Does that make sense? For a long time, boy, that was really sounding good, yeah, right, then I won't have to pay for any of that stuff. And now that it's about to go into effect, people are saying, 'Wait a minute, there is more to community than just a place to make money.' It becomes kind of the Genghis Khan type of method. When you see all of the mainstream religions standing up and saying, 'Yeah, you know, we cannot take everybody through charity.' And you see mayors saying, 'It's wonderful you're going to teach them to fish, but we don't have any fish here right now. Yeah, we want to teach them to fish but we don't have any fish to fish for, so, you know, come help our economy.' All of these things that sounded wonderfully profound in bumper-sticker slogans, once people really start to see them apply, they started to slow down a bit.

I think we're rethinking that and we're coming out of the 80s finally. I think that '96 is going to be a very thoughtful election because we're electing people that will close this century and frame where we will go in the next century. I think we are a more caring country than the 80s would have led you to believe.

I would say that the bulb is always brightest before it starts to dim. I think '94 was when that bulb of the '80s was the brightest, the final culmination. But I do think there will begin to be a revision and a change and a tempering of that extremism and that mean attitude.

Q: So you would believe then--this isn't necessarily his moment? We are not necessarily about to enter the first decade of the Gingrichian age?

Schroeder: I think if you look at the polls, people are starting to think that he's mean, he's extreme, he doesn't listen, he just talks. If they ponder his book, book sales didn't turn out to do quite as well as he'd like to have you think. People read them and start to say, 'Huh? How does that fit together again?' So, you know, at first it was like, yes this is a new flavor. We got tired of vanilla; this one's got zip. Now they've decided that it's got a little more zip than they want. I think you'll see a trimming of the sails, otherwise I think he'd be out of here and running for President. If this was really the new age of Gingrich, I think he'd be watching his campaign. But I don't think you're going to see that.

Q: But I would like to ask whether or not you would grant that there is some degree of the unhappiness with Washington. Some degree --that was the sense of people--that they're sending people back there and nothing happened.

Schroeder: That's right.

Q: And there is the inclination, it seems to me, to grant Gingrich and the Republicans that. We may not like everything he's doing but they have done something. They said they're going to this, this, and this, and by golly they seem to have done that.

Schroeder: Well, first of all, what this new group has done they've done in the House basically. I mean, it hasn't gotten to the out box. Nothing's really gotten to the out box so that it's in reality a law. And the interesting thing is that even the President of the United States is vetoing all of this because it never even gets to his desk. It never gets by the Republicans in the Senate. So you really have Republicans fighting Republicans. And we're kind of bystanders up in the bleachers. There's no question that the American people are frustrated with Washington. And I think Gingrich and others who have lived off Washington and pumped more Washington money into their districts have never played on that very, very well. Now people are saying, 'Wait a minute, wait a minute, this is one of the biggest game players, the guy that's violating his own criteria by a humongous amount. Whoa, we may have been used a bit in all of this.'

I think the second part is people are listening a lot more carefully to what they're saying and realizing that while government doesn't meet the same high service requirements we Americans want, if we go in and order orange juice, we want the orange juice cold, we want the coffee hot; we want this. So Newt's thing is, well, we'll send it to the state and local level. We'll ask people how they waited for their state license plate and find out it wasn't really the solution. What we really want is better service from the government. We want it to be more efficient. We want to make sure that as much waste as possible is gone. And we want to blow up some programs, because they're not needed. But we also want to keep some others because we think they're very important. They're coming in and blowing up the ones Americans want to keep and keeping the ones that Americans don't understand. The peanut program --'Oh, we can't touch that, that's for Georgia don't you understand?' And the sugar program, we've got to give them the money? And B2 bombers and deploy Star Wars -- give them all the money in the world? They want to keep the farm subsidies and keep this and keep that? All that stuff and we knock sixty thousand kids out of Head-Start? That's when Americans say, 'Whoa, we really were sold a bill of goods. We thought the Democrats were bad, holy mackerel. Their welfare's all corporate. Their welfare are all the people with the biggest PACs.'

And if you truly believe that the neediest people in this country are the greediest... the problem is that the greedy are so needy and the needy are really very greedy. The people are saying, 'No, we don't really think the problem is that the greedy are so needy and that the needy are so greedy. No, no, no, let's roll this all back again and start over.' So, needy, greedy Newt Gingrich, and it's how you flip needy and greedy as you come out on this. But it's really broken down into this new little word game. And all the greedy, he's feeling their needs. And they're getting more. I don't think the average American believes that.

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