The Economist‘s Democracy in America blog opines:
Probably the signal difference between this year’s GOP and 1994’s version of the party can be summed up in three words: Contract with America. The Contract, at the time, drove Democrats insane. They thought it represented a return to Reagan-era governing formulas that were proven failures. But while some of the Contract’s planks were pernicious (the balanced-budget amendment) and others were irrelevant (the black-helicopter crowd’s “National Security Restoration Act”, which forbade the president from placing American troops under UN command, or from mind-melding with extraterrestrials), the document did represent a coherent blueprint for what Republicans promised to do if they were given power.
Republicans couldn’t actually keep much of their contract when they took power in 1995; some died in the Senate, some was vetoed by Bill Clinton. Nancy Pelosi found herself with similar problems keeping her legislative promises in 2007. But the GOP today isn’t even trying to outline a programme of governance.
I’m not going to argue that Republicans really have a coherent governing philosophy — in fact, my most recent column criticized the GOP for failing to effectively communicate an alternate vision for health care reform. But one thing that’s important to note is that the Contract with America was unveiled just 6 weeks before the 1994 midterm elections. Regardless of what you may think of the GOP’s prospects next year — at this point I think they’ll make big gains but won’t take back Congress — comparing Republicans now to Republicans in the fall of 1994 isn’t really fair or predictive. It would be much more telling to look back at Republicans in the fall of 1993. At that time, you probably could have argued that the GOP was defined more by total opposition to Clinton than anything else.
With that said, reading some news accounts from the time, I was struck by an October 8, 1993 New York Times story headlined, “Gingrich Stakes Claim to House Minority Leadership.” The article concluded: “Representative John Linder, a conservative freshman from Georgia, praised Mr. Gingrich as ‘the principal idea man of our party.'”
Is anybody ready to fill that role this time around?