Republicans Overtake Congress with "Infantry Attack" on Ground By Chris Rowett A Hopkins political scientist says the recent success of the Republican Party may be traced in part to talk radio and a military-type strategy. Benjamin Ginsberg, head of the Washington, D.C. Center for the Study of American Government, believes the popularity of radio talk shows has resulted in Americans focusing on issues, something they have neglected to do in the past. Local talk radio shows generally cover national issues such as the deficit, taxes, abortion, school prayer, crime. Often it is local politicians discussing those issues. "So suddenly, Mr. or Ms. Ribbon-Cutter is linked to crime, abortion, school prayer, the deficit and taxes, which is where they don't want to be," Dr. Ginsberg said. "Members of Congress hate issues, because as long as you are a ribbon cutter, you can't lose. Once you get into the issues, you could lose." Many Democrats did. For the first time since 1954, Republicans will soon have control of the House of Representatives. It is the first time since 1946 that the GOP will control both houses of Congress. And it is the first time in years, Dr. Ginsberg said, that the Republicans were able to "mount an infantry attack on the ground." In the past, Dr. Ginsberg said, Republicans concentrated their efforts on reaching the masses through television or "air power." The Democrats have always been stronger "on the ground." "They've had armies of doorbell ringers and volunteers and activists," he said. "These activists made the Democrats the party to reckon with in congressional and local elections." In 1994, however, Republicans mobilized social conservatives including the Christian Coalition, National Federation of Independent Business and the National Rifle Association. "These forces provided infantry," Dr. Ginsberg said. "They provided support in local races." Another significant aspect of this year's elections, Dr. Ginsberg said, is the shift in loyalties among voters. "Every generation or two in the United States there has been a realignment in political forces in which large groups of voters shift their partisan leanings," he said. "We may be witnessing one of those realignments." The shift has taken place in some regions, he said, citing areas of the South that voted Republican in local elections. Dr. Ginsberg does not speculate on exactly what that shift may mean to the country. "A lot is going to depend on what the Republicans do," he said. "I'm a cynic. I'm a true cynic. True cynics say the problem is that when politicians get elected, they actually do what they say they're going to do. That's the problem. The professor cites Ronald Reagan, who in 1980 said that he planned to cut taxes and increase defense spending. "People said 'Oh, he can't do that, he's just promising stuff,'" Dr. Ginsberg said. "The true cynics said, 'Uh-oh, he's going to do that and we'll have an enormous deficit.' Well... "I always wait to see what they say they are going to do," he added. One plan that has been developed is the Republicans' "Contract with America," an issue-oriented agenda they say will go into effect within the next 18 months. The contract includes the goals of cutting taxes, reducing government social programs and reinstating school prayer. "It's significant that in the contract, school prayer is mentioned but not abortion," Dr. Ginsberg said. "Abortion is the issue that the religious right is focused on. It is an issue that divides Republicans. So [future Speaker of the House Newt] Gingrich has calculated that the best thing to do is avoid that issue if at all possible, like Ronald Reagan used to." Including school prayer--an issue most GOP members do not feel strongly about--was a calculated choice by Republicans, he said. The issue does divide Democrats; some conservative Southern Democrats support it, and some Northern liberals are vehemently against it. "If the religious right can focus on prayer instead of abortion, they're giving them something and they'll be happy," he said. "At the same time the Democrats will beat each other over their heads about it." President Clinton initially supported the school prayer idea, later said he was against it, then said he had been misunderstood. "This must have brought chuckles to Newt," Dr. Ginsberg said. Regardless of whether Republicans can find funding for the contract and see it implemented, Bill Clinton's future is certain, Dr. Ginsberg said. "Clinton is dead in the water," he said. "Gingrich has said loudly that there are going to be full-scale congressional investigations on matters pertaining especially to the Whitewater affair. "With these investigations, the Republicans will tie up the White House, its staff, and all the president's friends and acquaintances will be spending their time responding to subpoenas," he added. The inquisitions will include what Dr. Ginsberg calls "the politics of RIP": potentially damaging "revelations, investigations, prosecutions." "It's also rest in peace," he said.
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