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1986-1995: From Reaganomics to 'Revolution'

By Herblock
Sunday, December 31, 1995

In Act II of his administration, Reagan became the second president to confront a hostage-taking in Iran. But he did it his way -- standing tall on TV and proclaiming that there had been no arms-for-hostages deal, while caving in to the ayatollah and increasing the number of hostages by an arms payoff. Still, he remained popular.

The Star Wars drawing shows Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger with a $640 toilet seat around his neck. This became a recurring article of apparel following disclosures of other outlandish Pentagon payments such as $435 for a hammer, $466 for a wrench – and the overpriced airplane toilet seat.

George Bush, who had originated the term "voodoo economics" in his 1980 debate with candidate Reagan, was so anxious to become Reagan's VP that he swallowed the entire Reagan agenda, including Reaganomics. When Bush, as president, finally abandoned his "no new taxes" pledge, his economics-politics blew up in his face. Before leaving office, he dealt with the Iran-contra scandal, including his own part in it, by pardoning high officials who had been indicted, found guilty or pled guilty in connection with it.

Bill Clinton is a work in progress. He campaigned on shaping up domestic programs. Instead, the world delivered to his doorstep crises in Haiti, Somalia, Cuba, Middle East terrorism, Rwanda, China and Bosnia.

Presidents such as FDR and Truman were said to be both loved and hated. Clinton, while personally likable, has seemed to inspire neither love nor complete trust. Still, to many voters his policies have made him look better than the alternatives.

In 1994 "came the revolution" in Congress skillfully managed by Newt Gingrich, part master strategist, part charlatan, part fanatic – a self-proclaimed revolutionary who expresses dismay at being called an extremist. But the Gingrich strategy that gained power involved practices that were at least highly unethical and even, according to the Federal Elections Commission, illegal.

To hark back to the beginning, there are faint echoes of the Nixon-McCarthy era in all this. Like them, Gingrich has been obsessed with power and has shown a recklessness in obtaining and using it. It is not only power that tends to corrupt but the unbridled pursuit of it.

Like McCarthy, Gingrich has followed a policy of attack attack attack. Partisans of these politicians declared that they did not enrich themselves. But Gingrich's fortunes involved a combination shot in which power begat personal prosperity. There was no money in a Gingrich book until he was about to become speaker – when, magically, a fat contract appeared. The publishers went all out in pushing book sales. Incidentally, in this time of belt-tightening, more money than ever was spent on the speaker's office and the speaker's "security."

In the early 1950s, a party long out of power was willing to look away from ruthless behavior to obtain it. Since 1994, with the capture of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years, the same party was willing to embrace extremism to push its agenda. Gingrich's wild charges linking all heinous crimes to the other party's policies, plus the lack of civility in Congress, are reminders of an earlier dark era.

Before the windup of this tour, some continuing subjects deserve special mention. One has been the deterioration of the postal "service" since the government gave up running it. The District of Columbia, long without any voting rights at all, is still under the thumb of Congress. The cartoons – and The Washington Post's great editorials – have long campaigned for political campaign-funding reform. And both have long advocated gun control. The tobacco lobby has been another continuing subject. Both it and the National Rifle Association are organizations that put product distribution above human life and are among the biggest contributors to members of Congress. The cigarette companies settle for slower and less visible deaths. The gun lobby's efforts result in faster action. Both have expanded their markets to children.

There is a special circle in my cartoon hell for them – and a special contempt for the politicians who exchange support with them. Some progress has been made, although in 50 years they haven't yet received their just desserts. But there's still a good supply of pencils and ink.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company


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