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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Gingrich and the Contract with America

The forked tongue of the new House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, was working overtime in his first week of power in Congress. It is important to learn what his self-styled “revolution” and saving “American civilization” mean to the people — their health, safety, economic rights and democracy.

First, though, to illustrate how much of the Capitol Hill old guard remains inside Gingrich, consider what words he used to describe his and his wife’s economic status.

Appearing on Nightline with hostess, Cokie Roberts, Gingrich was discussing why they wanted the $4.5 million book contract that sparked a furor of unethical charges and led to his rejection of that money advance in favor of post-sales royalties. “We’re poor people” he said of Mr. and Mrs. Gingrich.

Poor people? Gingrich himself was making $133,600 a year plus benefits and perks as a Congressman. He now is making $171,500 plus more benefits and perks as Speaker. Apart from other income, this sum places the Gingriches in the upper one-half of one percent of Americans earning income. If Gingrich feels he is poor, how would he depict the rest of Americans?

Being affluent and talking poor is the forked tongue at work. But note what else he is doing in contrast to what he is saying.

The Republicans’ “Contract with America” — the alleged revolutionary document — excludes doing anything about the corruption that comes from money in politics. Campaign finance reform — which almost passed last year but was blocked just before adjournment by the Republicans — is not on the table at all this year, said Gingrich sidekick, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Nor is there any mention of lobbying and gift reform that also was blocked by the Republicans just before the end of the session last year. Freebiegates abound all over Capitol Hill. Epicurean meals, fruit baskets, liquor, cosmetics pile up in Congressional offices, compliments of one corporate lobby or another. More serious are the free junkets for legislators and their families to luxurious watering holes where trade associations hobnob with them over golf, tennis or dinner.

Gingrich thinks such reforms are nitpicking harassment of his revolutionary zeal.

The accurate word for what Gingrich plans to do on behalf of his big business patrons is “devolution” of our democracy.

He and his political allies want to federalize state courts in the area where wrongfully injured Americans take their wrongdoers to court. Notice the forked tongue again — Gingrich campaigned last fall on a promise to take power from Washington and give it to the states. Now he wants Washington politicians to tie the hands of state judges and jurors who are the only ones who hear and evaluate the evidence.

Next on Gingrich’s devolutionary agenda is to strip away the health and safety laws and disable their enforcement. No law and order for companies who manufacture defective motor vehicles, untested drugs, flammable fabrics, hazardous toxics and building materials.

No life-saving and dollar-saving standards to prevent the deaths, injuries and diseases of hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. Letting a thousand lead, asbestos, Dalkon shield, Pinto fuel tanks and other occupational, marketplace and environmental dangers bloom is the consequence of such indifference to industrial violence.

Who hasn’t heard Gingrich talk about responsibility and playing by the rules? Apparently, his homilies do not apply to corporations, much less himself.

The political question of the moment is how soon people will get to know Gingrich’s game.

He wants to push his devolutionary agenda through fast before the public is informed and aroused to ask such questions as: “if welfare reform is needed for the poor, how about the far greater welfare for the rich and the corporations that our tax dollars pay for every year?

Send Gingrich your questions in letters addressed to Speaker Newt Gingrich, House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. 20515. You might receive just the kind of “forked” letter to mobilize your friends around.