The Greatest


The Enduring Revolution:
How the Contract with America Continues to Shape the Nation

Major Garrett

Major Garrett is the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies in Politics and Common Cent. Garrett was a senior correspondent of Fox News Channel, congressional reporter for The Washington Times, and covered the War on Terror and the presidential election of 2004.

A Raging Revolution

By: Julie Wang

Major Garrett, author of The Enduring Revolution: How the Contract with America Continues to Shape the Nation, writes, “The election of 1994 changed America in more ways than anyone could have known at the time…ten years later, we know that the Republican Revolution endures.”1 For the first time in four decades, the Republican Party took control of Congress, seeking to alter the course of American politics, attempting to counteract the Democrats’ influence. The 104th Congress, with its Contract with America, promised the nation a balanced federal budget, reformed welfare policies, an increase in national security, pro-gun legislations, and a more conservative abortion agenda. Garrett concludes that the Republicans’ victory in 1994 ignited a clash of views and political standoffs, forever transforming America’s approach to both foreign and domestic policy. By incorporating interviews and first-hand accounts into the book, Garrett effectively portrays the resurgence of conservatism in the 1990s as a watershed event in the history of the United States.

In the first three chapters of The Enduring Revolution, Garrett discusses the contents of the Contract with America and the events that contributed to a Republican majority in Congress, including the factors that made the election of 1994 a “revolution.” On September 27, 1994, during the Congressional campaign, Republicans unveiled to the public the Contract with America, a document containing the ideologies they stood for. In essence, the Contract outlined a “unified set of principles: individual liberty, economic opportunity, limited government, personal responsibility, and security at home and abroad.”2 Furthermore, the Contract was comprised of ten planks in which the public could “scrutinize before the election.”3 In this aspect, the Congressional election of 1994 was different from the others: the simple rhetoric of the ten planks not only appealed to focus groups, but also allowed the public to fully evaluate and understand the Republicans’ goals. This way, it was impossible for opposing political forces to alter their agenda after Election Day. However, the path to revolution began about a decade earlier at the Capitol Steps Event in 1980. The event was significant in that the GOP finally shifted from the defensive side to the offensive, advocating for a more aggressive agenda. Newt Gingrich, the organizer of the event and the chairman of the long-range planning committee before becoming the House speaker, led Republicans on a reform movement against Clinton and his Democratic coalition. Clinton’s missteps—his centrist agenda and a punitive welfare reform—caused the Democratic Party to lose many votes in the Congressional election, further helping the GOP’s cause. Moreover, the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) outsourced jobs in the United States. As a result, America’s industrial base was gutted, leading to a majority of Americans to desire a change in the federal government.

The book also focuses on the clashes between Democrats and Republicans on issues concerning the federal budget and spending, welfare reform, and political deadlocks. In 1995, many saw the budget showdown as unnecessary and preventable, the result of “Republican excess.”4 On the other hand, Republicans agreed “that the stakes seemed unimaginably high, as the new GOP majority set its sights on ending forty years of fiscal recklessness, on toppling the spendthrifts.”5 The Republicans’ plans to balance the budget were seemingly fruitless as government spending continued to increase. However, even after their first budget amendment was voted down in the Senate, the Republicans did not give up. Consequently, their anti-political pursuit essentially transformed the terms of debate in the government, establishing a moderate-right framework on crucial political issues. Thus, the government shutdowns of 1995 were not heedless. In fact, the political standoffs revealed the seriousness and perseverance of Gingrich and the GOP on balancing the budget. Although the GOP was blamed for the shutdowns, Clinton and the GOP were able to reach a compromise and “for the first time since America had been remade by the new deal, the power to tax and spend was in the hands of Republicans.”6 Likewise, in the 1996 debates on welfare, Clinton made concessions with the Republicans, although claiming victory for himself in the end; in fact, President Clinton vetoed the welfare bill twice before signing it. The Contract with America initiated the call for reform by suggesting new measures such as phasing out benefits for teen mothers. The GOP’s hidden victory on the welfare issue proved to be another success for America: the act reduced the numbers of families depending on public assistance and improved the lives of millions.

Garrett elucidates on the endurance of the Republican Revolution by considering the significance of the changes in domestic and foreign policies of America. In 2004, U.S. soldiers stationed at Abu Ghraib were reported by witness and Army General Antonio Taguba as criminal abusers of Iraqi prisoners. The cause of their behaviors was lack of supervision, discipline, and training. Taguba’s account ignited the GOP to further pursue its agenda of “higher defense and intelligence budgets…on which they could not and would not compromise.”7 But reality was not ideal. Clinton, after hearing Gingrich’s request of a 20 billion-dollar-increase in intelligence funding, compromised and would only do so if Gingrich also raised the domestic budget. Gingrich yielded and the GOP budget plans disappeared. Therefore, Republicans’ public support dropped, losing five House seats. After Gingrich resigned days later, many perceived it as the end of the “revolution.” Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Republican Revolution endures and continues to influence politics. From 1999 to 2001, thirty-six percent of the Pentagon budget was allocated to a new defense spending as a result of “GOP ingenuity to prioritize military readiness.”8 However, there were failures on the Republican’s part, too. They failed to alter the vision of the U.S. military and the nation’s assessment on counterterrorism. But with the Contract with America’s National Security Revitalization Act, the War on Terrorism was promoted, enabling Congress to push the U.S. towards a new international agreement on nuclear deterrence. The 1991 Gulf War aroused debates over the possibility of a ballistic missile defense. As political support behind the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) slowly waned, the MIM-104 Patriot—a system-to-air missile (SAM)—effectively intercepted Iraq’s “Scud” missiles during Operation Desert Storm, encouraging new funding for the anti-ballistic missile system. On the other hand, the GOP perceived the ABM treaty as a “relic of Cold War.”9 Republicans strongly advocated for more investments on SDIs and theater missile defense systems (TMDs).

Opponents of the ballistic missile defense system included Clinton. President Clinton felt it was not needed, and his argument against the issue appeared bulletproof. In fact, the idea would not only abrogate the ABM Treaty, but also disrupt relations with Russia. Moreover, the 1995 National Intelligence Estimate concluded that the risk of being attacked by ballistic missile from rogue nations and major powers was small, almost negligible. To counteract Clinton’s viewpoint, Donald H. Rumsfeld headed the Rumsfeld Commission, which proved the National Intelligence Estimate’s prediction false. Indeed, nations like North Korea, Iraq, and Iran and states such as China and Russia posed a growing threat to the United States, and the development of ballistic-missile technologies was faster than expected. Through this, the GOP was able to redefine the consensus of nuclear deterrence. The last two chapters of the book focus on the Contract’s conservative policies towards abortion rights, gun-control, and Medicare. The abortion agenda advocated a pro-life policy, outlawing partial birth abortions and passing the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, which required doctors to inform the woman of the pain the fetus will feel during an abortion. Rather than banning all abortions, Republicans comprised on most of their policy goals. Therefore, the extent of their influence on abortion was limited. The GOP pro-gun majority drafted a much simpler agenda than the abortion one: stop expanding laws that control guns, reverse gun laws, and make federal law favorable towards victims rather than criminals. Lastly, two crucial Republicans helped reform Medicare: Representative Trent Franks and Senator Trent Lott. Garrett stated that the “two lawmakers who played the biggest role in making sure the Medicare drug bill became law” had prompted the “most significant shift in health care policy for the elderly since 1965.”10 The fight over Medicare goes on as the GOP continues to influence government spending and budget.

The author’s thesis is that the Republican majority after 1994, along with their Contract with America, has implemented many enduring changes to the federal government, influencing the GOP agenda to this day. Garrett claims that the Republicans of the 104th Congress was distinctive from the rest because they “were first and foremost about ideas.”11 Ideas stimulated politics. Ideas stimulated reforms. Because of the Republicans’ strive to push forward their own ideas, agenda, and policies, President Clinton—with the help of the GOP—undercut and obscured the influence of leftist politicians, focusing instead on triangulating politics and reversing the nation’s “unrecognizable has of tax increase…stimulus spending…costly and timid welfare reform, drastic defense cuts, and no middle-class tax cut.”12 These conservative ideologies were summarized in the Contract in an unsophisticated rhetoric, so that the American people could invest their renewed trust in the “revolutionized” federal government.

Major Garrett supports his thesis by directly interviewing politicians, incorporating quotes from these interviews into his book, and documenting first-hand experiences of major political events. His journalistic and sensationalistic approach reflects his careers as a Fox News Reporter, a member of the CNN’s White House Team, a senior editor for ‘U.S. News & World Report’, and a congressional reporter for The Washington Times. Most known for his news reports, Garrett tends to focus only on one side of the story—the Republican perspectives; in fact, the interviewees are mostly members of the GOP. Furthermore, Garrett’s arguments are subjective and opinionated, strongly advocating a partisan viewpoint on the Congressional Election and the effects of the resurgence of conservatism. He states that the book is “about trajectories…to wit, what happened that otherwise would not have happened had Republicans not been in charge.”13 However, throughout his work, Garrett solely details the negative implications if the supposedly Republican Revolution had not taken place. Most importantly, the topic of the book itself was a debate among historians and politicians: was the 1994 Election truly an indication of a “revolution” for Republicans? By believing that it was a revolution, Garrett loses some of his credibility, and it is imperative that readers analyze the work critically.

At the start of the twenty-first century America, endemic problems spurred by the September 11 attacks initiated the War on Terror. The post-Cold War world, on the other hand, had already terminated the deployment of ballistic missile systems. Meanwhile, in Washington, President Bush and the Republican majority began proposing for a controversial defense agenda that would abrogate the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty and could possibly damage the United States’ relationship with Russia. Years later, the multipronged abortion agenda questioned pro-choice Democrats, bringing about another conservative surge in the political arena. Thus, general attitudes at the time were conservative. The War on Terror especially provided neoconservatives an opportunity to gain greater influence in foreign policy; furthermore, Bush pledged for compassionate conservatism on domestic policy. Because of these factors, the author was likely influenced by the ascendency of Republicans and his coverage of the War on Terror. The two conservative fronts prompted Garrett to tie the Contract with America to twenty-first century America, fostering the argument that lives have changed because “Republicans won an election in 1994, igniting a clash of ideas and political forces America won’t soon forget.”14 In the book, Garrett notes that these current events are evidence of how the Contract persists through the decades and continues to build the nation.

George F. Will, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, visions The Enduring Revolution as an “indispensable guide to the transformed political terrain that continues to shape what Republicans want to do and what Democrats can do.”15 Moreover, Will recognizes the book’s intriguing argument on the dynamically changing political agendas, praising Garrett for his enthusiastic attitude towards history. Likewise, David Corn, editor of The Nation, praises the work’s overall conclusion that “the 1994 congressional elections and the Contract…fundamentally reshaped U.S. politics.”16 Corn also praises Garrett’s provocative and crucial account of critical events behind-the-scenes, in which the political journey of the GOP is portrayed vividly and first-handedly.

Garrett’s work entails that the path to a greater America lies within the Contract with America. The author describes the watershed Congressional Election of 1994 through a narrative style, sensationalizing the moment when a conservative GOP agenda was first born: “The year was 1980. The date, September 15. The agenda didn’t even have a name; only the event did.”17 Garrett’s rhetoric point out to the readers the significance of the Capitol Steps Event, creating a memorable association to how the “revolution” all started. By providing rock-solid research and a thorough analysis of the Republicans’ journey to revolution and later, success, Garrett forms a believable thesis and effectively communicates his intriguing political ideas to the reader. For example, the author utilizes the 2004 Zogby International poll in order to elucidate his notion that the Republican Revolution “has led to a shift in public opinion away from the pro-choice…ethos of the early 1990s…to pro-life.”18 The poll’s results are not only coherent with Garrett’s point of view, but also reveal how popular attitudes had changed about the ethical and cultural inadvisability of abortion. However, the author’s partisan view on the topic contributes to an unbalanced coverage of all aspects of the supposedly Republican Revolution; hence, the reader assess the book’s content through analytical lenses. Overall, Garrett’s book persuades the reader that the rise of conservatism in the 1990s was indeed caused by the Contract with America and a new Republican majority in Congress.

The book reflects the political changes that have occurred in twenty-first-century America by discussing the ways in which the GOP and the Contract impacted the consensus on nuclear deterrence and the intelligence and defense agendas. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty), implemented after the Cold War, discouraged new deployment of arms, nuclear weapons, and ballistic missile systems. Clinton strongly opposed a renewed funding of ballistic missile defense, using the National Intelligence Estimate to achieve his goal; as a result, the GOP debated with the President, and the success of the Rumsfeld Commission led to an increase in national security and budget for the United States defense system. However, it was not until after the terrorist attacks on September 11 did the GOP reform the intelligence units: “Despite the real differences the GOP made by protecting military readiness…the Republicans failed to perceive the magnitude of the emerging terrorist threat.”19 Launching the War on Terror, the GOP made the military better trained, equipped, and prepared to fight a rising global war on terrorism. The book does not talk about the impact of digital technology on America since the 1990s.

Garrett’s work effectively tells the story of how the Republican Revolution and the Contract with America have altered the lives of the American people in “startling ways.”20 He acknowledges that the Republicans had fundamentally transformed the political terrain, resulting in a renewed approach to welfare, taxes, health care, gun control, abortion, terrorism, and national defense. In the modern context, the revolution “rages on.”21

[1] Garrett, Major. The Enduring Revolution: How the Contract with America Continues to Shape the Nation. New York: Crown Forum, 2005. 11.
[2] Garrett, Major. 13.
[3] Garrett, Major. 14.
[4] Garrett, Major. 108.
[5] Garrett, Major. 109.
[6] Garrett, Major. 126.
[7] Garrett, Major. 156.
[8] Garrett, Major. 174.
[9] Garrett, Major. 202.
[10] Garrett, Major. 254.
[11] Garrett, Major. 12.
[12] Garrett, Major. 12.
[13] Garrett, Major. 15.
[14] Garrett, Major. 10.
[15] Will, George. “The Enduring Revolution by Major Garrett.” PenguinRandomhouse.com. Penguin Random House, 01 Feb. 2005. Web. 23 May 2017.
[16] Corn, David. “The Enduring Revolution by Major Garrett.” PenguinRandomhouse.com. Penguin Random House, 01 Feb. 2005. Web. 23 May 2017.
[17] Garrett, Major. 34.
[18] Garrett, Major. 219.
[19] Garrett, Major. 169.
[20] Garrett, Major. 267.
[21] Garrett, Major. 1.