BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Some revolution this turned out to be.
Four years ago, Steve Chabot became Ohio's 1st District congressman when the Republicans stormed the Bastille with their "Contract with America" and took over Capitol Hill for the first time in 40 years.
Reduce government. Cut taxes. Send power back to the people. Mr. Chabot and dozens of other eager young conservatives were ready to do it all, with Newt Gingrich, their philosopher king, to lead them.
Well, that was then, this is now.
There is a reason that Mr. Gingrich's ponderous writings on Renewing America and The Second American Revolution are now available for $4.98 on the bargain rack at your favorite neighborhood book store.
We refer you to the vote in Congress this past week on a $520 billion federal budget agreement, hammered out between Mr. Gingrich and the GOP congressional leadership and the Clinton administration.
Mr. Chabot, along with 63 other Republican House members, voted against the bill, saying it was full of wasteful government spending, contained no tax relief and spent $20 billion of a projected budget surplus that should have gone back to the taxpayers.
This was risky business for a two-term congressman who finds himself in the middle of a difficult re-election battle with a popular Democratic opponent.
And he had to know that he would be beaten about the head and shoulders by that Democratic opponent, Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls, for voting against a bill that would produce for the district -- more money for hiring teachers, summer youth jobs, "empowerment zones" and a host of other federal programs. He would be accused of straining at gnats when he could have easily swallowed the elephant.
In fact, the Qualls campaign wasted no time. Even before Mr. Chabot formally cast his vote late Tuesday afternoon, the Qualls campaign was on the air with a TV ad blasting him for, among other things, voting against hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes.
But, rightly or wrongly, voting against huge spending bills is the reason Mr. Chabot thinks he was put on this earth, and he obviously believed he was going to Washington as part of a Republican revolution to do just that.
Instead, he had to sit in the House chamber and listen as the fearless leader, Mr. Gingrich, called the Republicans who voted against the bill everything but "mister." Irresponsible. Immature. Perfectionist.
It had to be as if, in the winter of 1777, George Washington had called his starved and freezing troops together and announced he was taking a leave of absence.
Sorry, boys. I'm in the House of Lords now. Have to cross the pond and tour my estates. Back in the spring. Don't cross the Delaware without me.
The leadership of the so-called revolution had made a deal with the crowd at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue that rivaled anything Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen ever pulled off over tumblers of scotch in the bad old days.
What had to make it particularly galling for Class of '94 representatives like Mr. Chabot, who were being hammered unmercifully for eschewing pork and remaining pure, was the sight of the two top GOP congressional leaders -- Mr. Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott -- with their snouts wedged firmly in the trough.
Those two walked away with billions in defense money for their home states, and then spent the rest of the week telling the naysayers how stupid they were for not jumping on the gravy train.
All we could get out of Mr. Chabot on being treated this way by the leadership of the "revolution" he signed up for in 1994 was that he was "disappointed."
With that sort of capacity for British understatement, maybe he should try Parliament.
Howard Wilkinson's column runs Sundays. Call him at 768-8388 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org