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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Gingrich Republicans Attacking Democracy

It looks like the American people are getting wise to what the Newt Gingrich Gang in Congress are up to well before the supposedly knowledgeable Washington pundits and columnists. The polls are turning sharply against Gingrich’s extremist and corporatist Contract with America because people sense that lots of economic, health, safety, environmental and access to justice safeguards are in jeopardy.

The columnists and pundits are still playing the inside Washington beltway game. What’s coming up on the floor? When is the vote? What is the latest Gingrich outburst and reaction to it?

The one journalist who is putting the Gingrich pieces together and showing the overall attack on democracy and those laws that protect regular people from harmful corporate behavior is a Washington Post cartoonist — the legendary HERBLOCK.

Now in his Eighties, HERBLOCK rose to repeated heights in the days of the McCarthyite inquisitions and the red-baiting of young Congressman Richard Nixon. But he has never been more biting and comprehensive than his recent cartoons taking apart Gingrich and his crowd of stampeders.

One cartoon shows the GOP Congress in a cart, labeled “On to the Past”, flying down the side of the cliff with signs pointing downward into the darkness. The signs are “pre-consumer protection,” “pre-health and safety standards,” “pre-environmental laws,” “pre-child nutrition programs, “pre-medicare and medicaid,” “pre-minimum wage,” “pre-social security,” “pre-collective bargaining,” “pre-antitrust laws,” “pre-civil war,” and so on. The Republican politicians in the descending cart are asking “How Far Back Do We Go In This Thing?”

Another cartoon shows two Republicans walking past the U.S. Congress and one says “Man, we’re breaking speed records — when. there’s time, I want to read some of that stuff we’ve been voting for.”

A third cartoon congeals the hypocrisy of this new Republican majority that told voters last year to elect them because they were going to clean up Congress. This sketch shows two politicians sitting by the Congressional pool. In the background are huge sacks titled “Congressional Pensions,” “Paid Junkets,” “Gifts from Lobbies,” “G.O. Pork,” etc. One politician says to another, “National Service — What a Silly Idea.”

One doesn’t have to know much about newspaper political cartoonists to understand just how difficult it is to draw such an integrated message to readers. But HERBLOCK has broken new ground in the essay-cartoon category because he links bits of news together into patterns that show what is going on.

The columnists and pundits, on the other hand, speak rarely of the enormous drive to concentrate more power in the hands of corporations, to immunize companies from their wrongdoing (this is baldly called “tort reform” and “securities reform.”), to straitjacket the forces of law and order that set and enforce auto, food, drug, pollution, drinking water and other safety standards (this is called “deregulation”).

Part of the media’s avoidance can be attributed to the Democrats who, seeking money from corporate political action committees among other reliances, are not framing this corporate power grab issue for what it is.

Back in 1986, Public Citizen published a book called “Freedom from Harm.” It described the many successes in health and safety regulation that made our cars safer, our air cleaner, our drugs safer, our workplaces less hazardous. Lead levels in the bodies of Americans have declined due to the ban on lead in gasoline.

Over two hundred little children used to lose their lives every year because their parents unknowingly gave them aspirin when they had the flu. Now with prominent aspirin bottle labeling required by regulation, this death toll from Reyes Syndrome is down dramatically.

Certainly, there are some foolish regulations and much government waste and very weak enforcement as, for example, against physicians who defraud medicare for billions of dollars a year.

But the Gingrich Republicans are not zeroing in on these abuses; their real focus is the destruction of the system of effective American law that gives people their “freedom from harm”, their day in court and their corporate law and order.