Newt Gingrich's visit to Cathy McMorris Rodgers' Aug. 13 fundraiser was quite timely. Twenty years ago this November, the 5th District voted Tom Foley out of office, thus ending our 15 minutes of fame — and influence. Marching into the nation's Capitol was Newt Gingrich; wrapped in the Confederate Stars and Bars, he opposed "those federals" and declared victory for the "moral majority" and right-thinking people everywhere.
Gingrich channeled Ronald Reagan, who said, "Government is not the solution. Government is the problem." Once in office, however, Reagan went on a defense-spending binge the likes of which America hadn't seen since World War II. Coupled with his huge tax cuts, the national debt doubled. Amazingly, Reagan pulled this off during peacetime — an American first. Enter Gingrich and his "Contract With America." His major accomplishment as Speaker of the House? He shut down the government.
Gingrich used the South, and the South became the Republican Party. The South put Gingrich into office and has kept his agenda chugging along ever since. Check the numbers: Absent the South, Democrats today would control the Senate by upwards of perhaps 25 votes instead of the uneasy eight-vote margin they now have. And over in the House? Democrats would be looking at perhaps a 30-vote majority. Thus, our present political reality: Newt = the South = the Republican Party = Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
It's no secret that ever since the Civil War, Newt Gingrich's South has enjoyed national political influence way beyond its population base. Gingrich took full advantage. His tactic? Phony scandal-mongering: "Whitewater," "Who killed Vince Foster," "Travelgate" and "Monicagate." In the end President Clinton was exonerated, but so what? Anything to avoid the real business of governing while feeding the trolls along the way.
Polarization ensued. It was Gingrich, not Reagan, who shoved America's politics away from "come let us reason together," "let's make a deal" and "we can find some common ground." Out with the world of Reagan and Foley, in with the world according to Newt. Fronting for the anti-federal government South, Gingrich didn't just disagree with Tom Foley; his strategy called for attacking the institutions that defined Tom Foley.
The beat got louder when Barack Obama was elected in 2008. Now the South was really riled up. As one observer put it, it isn't "racism" so much as "place-ism." Obama didn't know his place, therefore he was "uppity" — even worse.
So the South, aka the Republican Party, treats America to another round of phony scandals. Think of the time and money wasted on "birthers" and "Benghazigate." That "scandal" having gone nowhere, they're now planning to sue the president. Some are actually talking about impeachment. More wasted time and money. In the meantime, they do nothing about immigration, nothing to improve health care (except to pass meaningless "repeal Obamacare" resolutions), nothing about infrastructure, nothing about climate change (and why bother, since 65 percent of white evangelicals believe in "end days"). Equal pay for women? Women's reproductive rights? Forget it. Growing inequality? God's will, apparently. Influenced as they are by Southern fatalism, Republicans reject the very idea of commonweal.
Call it the politics of the New Right. Whatever it is, it turns Tip O'Neill on his head. O'Neill famously remarked that "All politics is local." The New Right heads in a different direction: All politics is ideological, packaged in Orwellian doublespeak. Loyal spear-carrier Cathy McMorris Rodgers often leads with "I'm back there fighting Washington." In fact, she is Washington.
Rodgers' district looks much like Newt's South: low income, high poverty, lots of labor exploitation in between, with hatred of the federal government except when it's dressed in military garb. Spokane, the most "affluent" county in the 5th District, ranks 14th out of 39 counties statewide in per capita income, and lower than that in average family income. The six most sparsely populated counties are among the poorest: Ferry is second to last, with Pend Oreille, Asotin, Columbia, Garfield and Lincoln not much better. And how does McMorris Rodgers deal with these dismal demographics and lack of economic opportunity? On cue, she votes to cut food stamps, cut the community block grant program, votes against equal pay for women, votes to make it more costly for women to obtain contraception (which has the greatest impact on the poor) and ducks out completely on immigration reform. She didn't bother to vote on the Dream Act at all.
Oh, and the irony of all this? That damnable Washington has actually thrived, with much of the credit owed to Reagan and Gingrich. It's not by some accident that the D.C. suburbs have become the highest-income counties in America, with four out of the top five. Since 2007, Loudoun County, Virginia, has had the highest average family income in America — almost $26,000 a year higher than Santa Clara County in California. Yes, that Santa Clara County — as in Silicon Valley and firms like Apple and Google. Never before has hating the government been such a booming business. ♦