A Whole Newt World in Washington
A POLITICAL tsunami roared through Washington this week as Republicans officially assumed power on Capitol Hill. It was an occasion for sober reflection on the dignity of the people's will, for quiet pride in the orderly transition of American power, for contemplation of the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, and so on.
But mostly, if you were of the GOP persuasion, it was an occasion to party. ``It's a whole Newt world!'' yelled one enthusiastic lawmaker as Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia ascended the podium as the first Speaker of the House from his party in 40 years.
Indeed, it was. Not only did power switch hands in the House and Senate, but Power Rangers were there to see the change. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, that is.
Some scenes from an historic day:
How do you get a kid excited about coming to Washington to watch Mom or Dad get sworn in as a member of Congress?
Invite the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, of course.
As the newly minted 104th Congress got down to business, congressional tykes decked out in their Sunday best jammed a House cafeteria to watch a live demonstration of the popular children's television program.
Five ``Rangers'' in bright Spandex suits and space-age head-gear performed karate kicks and gymnastic gyrations for adoring fans.
Never mind that some parents, and even some school districts, have banned Power Rangers for being too violent.
In a brief appearance, Speaker Gingrich lauded the Rangers for promoting drug awareness.
But any grander significance seemed lost on nine-year-old Stephen White, godson of Rep. Charles Wilson (D) of Texas, clad in a hot-pink karate suit. Whom does he like better, Newt Gingrich or the Power Rangers? he's asked.
``I'm in the middle of deciding,'' he replied, like a politician-in-training.
Then there was the big fan in the front row, Rep. Robert Dornan, the voluble Republican from California. ``On my sensitive side, I'm a devotee of Mother Teresa,'' he said, a grandson perched at his feet. ``But on my politically aggressive side, most of my supporters claim I've always been a Power Ranger.''
They swarmed Capitol Hill like gnats, roughly 260 enthusiasts calling themselves ``Newt's Friends From Georgia'' and carrying copies of futurist Alvin Toffler's books or the Federalist Papers.
Some came to have their picture taken with the first House Speaker from their state in more than a century. Others were lobbyists hoping to make a quick plug.
Ralph Howard, clad in rumpled suit, flew in to find out just how serious Gingrich's Republicans are about his personal freedom.
His litmus test, however, was more apt to bring protest than support from the nation's self-appointed chief guard against countercultural influences.
Mr. Howard, friend of Newt, wants to legalize marijuana.
``Hey,'' said Howard, a member of the Washington-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, responding to a question about the incongruity of the issue to party, ``the Republicans promised to get government off people's backs.''
As they waited in line for a moment's audience with the new Speaker, Howard and several friends asked to have their photograph taken.
They moved over beneath a nearby statue, but Howard quickly backed off. The statue is of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, ``perpetrator of northern aggression,'' according to Howard.
As members of the Senate and House of Representatives gathered to listen to opening speeches inside the Capitol, different voices of America were having their says outside. Groups representing a spectrum of causes and philosophies marked the first day of the 104th Congress with small rallies in the bitter cold, which was probably why the press outnumbered the few onlookers.
A group calling itself ``The Peoples' Congress'' assembled halfway up the Capitol steps for an anti-contract protest. Its first speaker was Cassandra Floyd, a 19-year-old mother who denounced the Republican plan to deny public assistance to teenagers with babies.
She said that funds would be cut to the program that is allowing her to complete high school while providing day care for her five-month-old daughter. She ended with a warning on teenage pregnancies.
''Congress has ... to realize that this is not going to end. Babies are going to have babies,'' she said.