BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer
There was a time in Cincinnati politics, not so long ago, when some people wondered if Steve Chabot had much going for him between the ears.
Dumber than a hoe handle, they said. Dumb as a mud fence.
Maybe, they thought, he had played out his football career at La Salle High School sans helmet.
Well, maybe not.
Ohio's 1st District congressman may not win any Nobel Prizes any time soon, but in Tuesday's election he proved himself to be considerably smarter than Newt Gingrich, the leader of the Republican "revolution" the Westwood Republican signed on to four years ago.
Friday night, after the news spread that Mr. Gingrich would not only not run for re-election as House speaker but would likely leave Congress altogether, a raft of GOP congressmen showed up on the cable news network shows, peddling mush about how Mr. Gingrich was somehow one of nature's noble men, a patriot who had but one life to give to his party, ad nauseum.
These were some of the very same congressional talking heads who, 24 hours earlier, had been busy sticking rhetorical hat pins into Mr. Gingrich's backside, blaming him for the fact that, for the first time since Franklin Roosevelt was president, the party that did not hold the White House actually lost seats in a mid-term congressional election.
Well, they were right.
A large rasher of blame for the Republicans' embarrassing showing in the congressional elections Tuesday should go to Mr. Gingrich, who seemed to be working under the assumption that Americans would go to the polls and choose their representatives in Congress on whether or not Bill Clinton had been a naughty boy.
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It was Mr. Gingrich, after all, who signed off on a last-minute, $10 million TV ad campaign, aimed at getting voters mad about Mr. Clinton and his "improper relationship" with a White House intern. It was a bonehead play, it backfired horribly, and the armchair quarterbacks in the GOP House caucus immediately began whining that the "leadership" - i.e., Gingrich - had blown it by not sticking to their issues and selling voters on the accomplishments of the Republican Congress.
Problem with that was, there weren't many to stick to. Accomplishments, that is. Not many that an army of budget-slashing, tax-cutting, devolution-loving conservative congressmen would want to run for re-election on.
What the 105th Congress had done, under that visionary leader Newt Gingrich, was pass a pork-laden transportation bill and cut a budget deal with a Democratic president that, with its $20 billion in "emergency" spending, ate into the very budget surplus that they had been crowing about.
Oh, yes, we forgot - they named the airport in Washington after Ronald Reagan. Hoorah.
Meanwhile, Mr. Chabot stuck to the path that had gotten him to Washington in the first place, back in 1994, when he was one of the young conservative Turks who rode into town on Mr. Gingrich's Contract With America.
He voted against both the transportation bill and the budget agreement, and took his share of grief from his Democratic opponent, Roxanne Qualls, for saying no to a budget that will bring millions into the 1st District.
For their trouble, Mr. Chabot and the other Republicans who voted "no" on the budget deal - including his 2nd District neighbor, Rob Portman - were called names by the Georgia genius who had brought them to power.
Still, Mr. Chabot did what smart politicians do - he danced with the girl who brought him. He campaigned on the same things he always had. Less government. Lower taxes. Power to the people, not Washington. Simple stuff - simplistic, you might say - but it worked.
When the 106th Congress convenes in January, Steve Chabot will be there. Newt Gingrich will not.
Now, which one would you call to change the light bulbs in your house?
Howard Wilkinson's column runs Sundays. Call him at 768-8388 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org