It probably wasn’t actually that warm today, but in a place that has been increasingly punctuated by cold snaps, it doesn’t take a whole lot of warmth to make a difference. I will resist the temptation to wax antidotal on that one. This afternoon, however, clouds blew in a rainstorm. Just as it started to sprinkle, I went down the stairs and around the corner from the office to get the mail when I saw him.
There, standing in front of the Bank of America, wearing a dark suit and talking into a cell phone, was one of the most powerful men on the earth....at least in the 90’s. Back in the 90’s, he was invited to all the big parties...he went everywhere in a limo, with an entourage, and most certainly with security more befitting a rock star than a public servant. He most certainly did not stand on the corner of 2nd and Pennsylvania talking into a cell phone while some goofball with a shaved head and earrings did a double take.
This man had lectured the world on US history – even when the world wasn’t listening. This man had engineered a take over of the House of Representatives. Other than Monica Lewinsky, this man was the person who Bill Clinton most often wished would just go away quietly. The funny thing is that none of us ever thought he really would...and yet, it appears he did.
I’m sure Newt thought I was stalking him, because I turned around three times on the sidewalk to look again...to make sure it was him. I thought about going back and introducing myself...but then figured that he’d had his fill of walk-up appointments. So, no autograph today. Just an interesting procession of thoughts....of how one of the most influential figures of one decade can end up standing in the drizzle hailing his own cab while jaded citizens walk around him.
Fate isn't fickle. People are. History is littered with stories of people who rode into town on a white donkey and were toasted by the crowds one week only to be crucified between thieves the next. It's made me think about that...how some people are propelled to stardom only to seeming crash back to terra cruella the next.
Newt Gingrich's claim to (in)fam(y)e was the Contract with America. He lined up the entire freshman class of the 104th Congress on the Capitol steps for the mother of all photo ops and had them sign a gigantic replibill with the pledge to address key issues in the first 100 days of their term:
FIRST, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress;
SECOND, select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;
THIRD, cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third;
FOURTH, limit the terms of all committee chairs;
FIFTH, ban the casting of proxy votes in committee;
SIXTH, require committee meetings to be open to the public;
SEVENTH, require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase;
EIGHTH, guarantee an honest accounting of our Federal Budget by implementing zero base-line budgeting.
Then, he went on to list a series of bills they pledged to pass. It was political hoopla at it's best. And for the most part, it was right. There were very few flaws in the Contract with America, so the left went ballistic (believing all good ideas come from the left), labelling it the Contract ON America and destroying Gingrich for....being a bit of a jerk. Which only goes to prove that all the good ideas in the world won't help you if you're not polite to waitresses and kind to people in general.
I don't know Newt (although we almost met today...), but I wonder what it feels to have reached your apex before you were ready to turn around and head for home. Pretty bad, I'd bet.
Goodnight from Washington.