WASHINGTON -- Rep. Newt Gingrich, slated to become the first Republican House speaker in 40 years, said yesterday that the Great Society social programs spawned by President Lyndon B. Johnson would be "replaced thoroughly" under a GOP Congress.
"They are a disaster," Mr. Gingrich said. "They ruined the poor. They created a culture of poverty and a culture of violence which is destructive of this civilization, and they have to be replaced thoroughly from the ground up."
Mr. Gingrich swept back into town yesterday, triumphant before the hordes of reporters who listened to his every word, shouted questions at the same time and chased him to his waiting Cadillac Brougham as if he really mattered.
Because now he does.
In a speech before the Washington Research Group, an association of investors who follow political trends, the Georgia Republican put his skeptics and his critics on notice that he meant what he said in his "Contract with America."
"I am very prepared to cooperate with the Clinton administration. I am not prepared to compromise," Mr. Gingrich said. "Cooperate, yes. Compromise, no."
He put the beneficiaries of Head Start, Medicaid and the Job Corps on notice that they will probably have to look elsewhere or to themselves for help. These are among the programs that need to be re-examined, he said. But he added that re-examining a program does not necessarily "mean it has to be abolished."
The speech was vintage Gingrich: Throw in a half-dozen historical references, attack the press, mock the Washington elite and lay out a vision for the future. It was pretty much the same speech he has been giving all year as he campaigned for Republicans in 127 congressional districts across the country.
Only this time, Mr. Gingrich essentially got to say, "I told you so."
He reminded his audience that he brought 330 Republican candidates to the Capitol steps to sign a pledge for lower taxes, a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, increased defense spending, term limits and welfare reform, among other things. Then, President Clinton and the Democrats repeatedly attacked him and his GOP candidates for the promises that they had made.
"In the end, there was the most shatteringly one-sided Republican victory since 1946," he said.
"This was clearly a historic election, which clearly had a mandate," Mr. Gingrich said. "And that's outside the Washington elite's view, and they don't want to believe that because it's not the mandate they wanted."
Indeed, Mr. Clinton began rationalizing the day after the election that the voters were not rejecting the work Congress had done in passing the Family and Medical Leave Act, a National Service program and other legislative initiatives. Mr. Clinton said he thought the voters were objecting to the fact that it all looked so messy.
So far, the president has cited only a couple of issues on which he believes he can work with Republicans -- welfare reform, limited health care reform and a world trade agreement.
But with 231 Republicans in the House, Mr. Gingrich has the numbers to do much of what he wants. It only takes 218 votes to pass a bill in the House, although he would need about 290 votes to override a veto.
"The long experiment in professional politicians and professional government is over, and it failed," Mr. Gingrich said. "You cannot hire a teacher to teach your child, and walk off and then blame the teacher. You cannot hire a policeman to protect your neighborhood and then walk off and blame the police."
Mr. Gingrich held out a threat to those in either party who might think of blocking his agenda: "If this just degenerates after an historic election back into the usual baloney of politics in Washington and pettiness in Washington, then the American people, I believe, will move toward a third party in a massive way. I think they are fed up with this city, they are fed up with its games, they are fed up with petty partisanship."