THE “FREEDOM REVOLUTION”

With the economy recovering slowly from the recession and Clinton’s first two years in office seemingly lacking in significant accomplishments, voters in 1994 turned against the administration. For the first time since the 1950s, Republicans won control of both houses of Congress. They proclaimed their triumph the “Freedom Revolution.” Newt Gingrich, a conservative congressman from Georgia who became the new Speaker of the House, masterminded their campaign. Gingrich had devised a platform called the “Contract with America,” which promised to curtail the scope of government, cut back on taxes and economic and environmental regulations, overhaul the welfare system, and end affirmative action.

Congressman Newt Gingrich of Georgia at a rally in September 1994 announcing the “Contract with America,” the Republican program for the congressional elections that fall. The Republican sweep resulted in Gingrich’s election as Speaker of the House.

Viewing their electoral triumph as an endorsement of the Contract, Republicans moved swiftly to implement its provisions. The House approved deep cuts in social, educational, and environmental programs, including the popular Medicare system. With the president and Congress unable to reach agreement on a budget, the government in December 1995 shut down all nonessential operations, including Washington, D.C., museums and national parks.

Gingrich had assumed that the public shared his intense ideological convictions. He discovered that in 1994 they had voted against Clinton, not for the full implementation of the Contract with America. Most Americans blamed Congress for the impasse, and Gingrich’s popularity plummeted.

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