usual detritus of post-press release anonymity, the Republicans spent considerable time and treasure circulating the short version of the contract in such places as the country’s largest circulation weekly magazine, TV Guide. Despite these efforts, very few people seem to know very much about the “Contract,” either as summary, narrative, or drafted legislation. The near total disconnect these days between the public’s attitude, as’relentlessly surveyed by public and private polls, and any factual or even theoretical basis for that attitude, means that documents like the “Contract” are doomed to lurk, unread, behind the stealth maneuvering that actually produces legislation. Four months after its initial release, and over two months since its propagators won their majority in Congress, over forty per cent of the American people, acording to this week’s NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, say they’ve never heard of the “Contract with America.” This despite the publication, early in January, of a book-length version, widely distributed by a major pubWhile such significant lack of attention can hardly be called surprising in an electorate where 62 percent of those eligible didn’t bother to participate in last November’s debacle, it is still something to be reckoned with. Republicans have taken to holding up copies of the “Contract” on television during interviews, somberly suggesting that viewers would profit enormously from scrutinizing its wisdom. They’re right, although probably not in the sense they suggest. In book form, the “Contract” is a slapdash affair. Part summary of proposed legislation, part narrative, part “question and answer” about the Republican proposals, it resembles the discognitive non-books so hurriedly thrown on the market on so many topics these days, from bulimia to baseball. But unlike many such tendentious tomes, this one’s sincerity can be questioned even before one reads a single page of its text. For the copyright page somberly tells us that “Neither Rep. Newt Gingrich, Rep. Dick Armey, nor any House Republican refor the publication of “Contract with America.” Royalties from the sale of this document will be used for nonpolitical, nonpartisan purposes.” One might well wonder at this newborn charitable impulse on the part of one of our nation’s hitherto self-serving electoral groupings. What “nonpolitical, nonpartisan purposes” do they have in mind? Orphanages? Bible distribution? Fourth of July barbeques? Thus forewarned, the “Contract,” in book form, is best read backwards. In an appendix, no less a personage than King Knut himself, just three days after his victory on the largely deserted electoral battlefield last November, delivered one of the lessonfilled, overheated, post-academic lectures he can’t resist imposing upon his simple subjects. “I’m a history teacher by background,” he never tires of reminding us, alluding to his now famous eight years of unsuccessfully seeking tenure in the rigorous groves of West Georgia College. “What is ultimately at stake in our current environment,” his Knutness continues, “is literally the future of American civilization as it has existed for the last several hundred years…what is at issue is literally not Republican or Democrat or liberal or conservative, but the question of whether or not our civilization will survive.” MICHAEL ALEXANDER When basing oneself on such “literal” apocalyptic pre-visions, it is difficult not to stumble subsequently. Especially when such mundanities as formulating relief from the impending disaster must appear on the agenda. One easy methodology is, however, available. And it’s the one which, in fact, General Knut \(who, like his archenemy, President Bill, avoided military serone. “Eisenhower’s job in World War II,” our quondam history professor tells us, “was to invade the continent of Europe, defeat the German army, and occupy the German heartland. His actual order from the combined chiefs was two paragraphs, all the rest was detail.” Ah, but “quels details!” as Eisenhower’s good friend and military rival, Charles de Gaulle, might have said! And of such “details” is the Gingrichian cosmos composed, a veritable Milky Way of asteroidal hints, supernova ideas, meteorite showers of shouts, imprecations, exhortations…and rules. In fact, the more one reads the “Contract,” the more one attempts to penetrate into the actual legislation now being drafted to implement its provisions, the more one finds that what we have here is nothing more or less than an almost, dare we say, Biblical collection of shahs and shalt nots, aimed at coercing society into what the pollsters have told Gingrich et al. they think they have found people saying, and desiring. For example: “Every child in America should be required to do at least two hours of homework a night, or they’re being cheated for the rest of their lives in their ability to compete with the Japanese, Chinese and Germans,” prescribes our former West Georgia college professor, from the heights of his understanding of those complicated, and very different, cultures. Don’t like welfare, and its victimclients? Make ’em work! Don’t like people committing crimes? Make ’em suffer, and, of course, fry. Don’t like regulations? Make ’em subject to a pitiless “risk and cost” assessment. Don’t like taxes? Cut ’em out! Don’t like lawyers, politicians, the U.N.? The “Contract” takes care of them, too! But ultimately, tired of meliorist logic and prescriptive legislation, Herr Knutstein brings out the magic wand. “We simply need to reach out and erase the slate and start over,” he concludes, in despair over what he sees an absence of a “work ethic,” “civic responsibility,” too many “Washington games” and too much “petty partisanship.” There is a bit of a problem in doing, that, of course. American society is not a “slate” that can be “started over,” like a confused college class being taken over in midcourse by a new instructor. You can only push around so many people with homework, forced employment, brutal law enforcement \(the “Contract” has some truly frightening suggestions about use of “ob-, jectively reasonable beliefs” to justify arbi\(“no taxpayer funds may be used for abortion services or abortion counseling,” says the “Contract’s” charmingly named “PerShould all of this somehow come to pass, at the very least, people are going to ask: This is freedom? And they may well not be content just to ask that question, but to act in mirror ways of meanness, incivility, and militarism modeled after what Gingrich and his apostles now prescribe. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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