Reactions to The Contract With America, New Gingrichs pledge and organizing principle for the Revolution of 1994, were not all positive. Indeed, the usual gag was to refer to it as The Contract on America, as if GOP candidates were hit-men, as if balanced budgets and term limits would kill the country.
How effective was the contract? It helped elect the first GOP House majority in over 40 years. House Republicans did hold votes on each of ten measures, as promised, but the two most important features fizzled: the balanced budget amendment and term limits.
The House passed a balanced budget amendment, only to see it go down to defeat in the Senate. The term limits idea, so popular amongst voters and passed as citizen initiatives in more than a score of states, was defeated, with House leadership refusing to actively support it. After state initiatives were challenged and defeated in court, the House ÷revolutionariesø barely made a nudge in the direction of a constitutional amendment.
Still, the Contract With America was not simply a stunt. It organized politicians and it set up a standard for voter judgment. That standard, one could argue, lingered. And, against it, the class of 94 Republicans eventually discredited themselves — they had cave in to the traditional Washington vices of spendthrift legislation and heedlessness . . . of constitutional limitations, of their promises, of the Contract itself.
And now, the Contracts story has extended to a new and more interesting chapter.
Well, there is a Contract out there. It is evolving, sure. It has yet to take a definite form. But if any corporeal frame is ready to take it on, it is the Tea Party.
And this time, it might have teeth.
Call it the American Contract on Republicans, without the smug laughter at the wordplay.
The Tea Party movement is growing. And it is organized not in a top-down way, but — as Jonathan Rauch explained in a recent article on Tea Party leadership — but laterally, in the starfish manner. The Republican Party is Microsoft; the Tea Party is Linux.