1995: The year the future began
The artist who drew the most imaginative newspaper illustration of the year 1995 — a front page caricature of “Cry Baby” Newt Gingrich as a chubby, foot-stamping toddler — recalled his work in today’s Washington Post, saying it has “become part of America’s shutdown lore.”
Indeed, it has.
The send-up of Gingrich, then speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, appeared on the cover of the New York Daily News on November 16, 1995, in the midst of a brief but fateful partial closure of the federal government.
The shutdown, and the Daily News illustration, badly damaged Gingrich’s political standing and helped foreclose his ambitions to become president. Even more significantly, the shutdown enabled President Bill Clinton to begin a furtive, intermittent sexual affair with an unpaid White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, a dalliance about which the president lied under oath, nearly costing him his presidency.
The famous caricature of Gingrich was the work of Ed Murawinski, who was at the Daily News 46 years until 2015. He wrote in today’s Post that he was on his way “out the door, ready to take my young son to a basketball game” when the newspaper’s editor-in-chief asked him to draw a political cartoon for the front page.
“I spent a couple of hours with my pen and paintbrush adding a diaper, a baby bottle and a few fat teardrops to the exaggerated features of a grown man,” Murawinski wrote. “The cartoon would become part of America’s shutdown lore.”
I discussed what led to Murawinski’s illustration of Gingrich in my book 1995: The Year the Future Began, describing it as “a memorably devastating caricature.”
I wrote that that on November 15, 1995, the voluble Gingrich “told journalists at a breakfast meeting in Washington that he had toughened up the interim spending measure that Clinton vetoed in part because he felt the president had treated him badly.
“Clinton, Gingrich said, had ignored him aboard Air Force One during a trip to Israel to attend the state funeral of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who was assassinated in Tel Aviv on November 4. Not only did Clinton pass up an opportunity to negotiate the budget impasse during the long flight home, Gingrich said, but he and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole were made to leave the aircraft by the rear stairs after landing at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland.”
At the breakfast meeting, Gingrich prefaced his remarks by acknowledging, “This is petty.” But he went on, lamenting that he’d been “on the plane for twenty-five hours [for the round trip to Israel] and nobody has talked to you and they ask you to get off the plane by the back ramp. . . . You just wonder, where is their sense of manners? Where is their sense of courtesy?”
The slights and perceived rude treatment were, Gingrich said, “part of [the reason] why you ended up with us sending down a tougher” spending bill, making Clinton’s veto a certainty, and that led to the government’s partial shutdown.
“The speaker’s rambling, almost stream-of-consciousness remarks,” I wrote in 1995, “qualified as the year’s most astounding political gaffe and invited a torrent of ridicule that helped tilt the shutdown battle in Clinton’s favor.”
Within hours of the Speaker’s remarks, the White House press secretary, Mike McCurry, “released a photograph of Clinton, Gingrich, and others at a conference table aboard Air Force One, during the trip to Israel,” I wrote, adding that McCurry “said he had done so ‘sort of mischievously,’ to lend an impression that ‘Clinton did talk to Gingrich on the plane, so what’s Gingrich griping about?’
“The next morning’s New York Daily News seized on Gingrich’s peevishness in a memorably devastating caricature on its front page. The speaker was drawn as a chubby toddler in diapers, stamping his foot and howling. Above the sketch was a huge headline that declared: ‘CRY BABY. Newt’s Tantrum: He closed down the government because Clinton made him sit at back of plane.'”
The caricature was an immediate sensation.
Democrats brought to the floor of the House “a poster-size blow-up of the Daily News front page and made it their centerpiece as they ridiculed Gingrich,” I wrote, noting that Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder of Colorado held up a replica of an Academy Award statuette and proclaimed that the speaker had “sewn up the category of best performance by a child actor this year.”
Murawinski’s illustration helped fix Gingrich “as the obnoxious poster boy of the federal budget crisis,” I wrote, “and it deepened the public’s unease about the speaker and his blustering ways.” Gingrich may have been a gifted political strategist, but he was a flawed leader who often came across as arrogant, petulant, and needlessly high-handed.
Resolving the government shutdown took more than Gingrich’s astonishing faux pas.
Clinton and congressional Republicans finally agreed to balance the federal budget by 2002, provided that entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid were protected. “It was shaky compromise,” I noted in 1995, “but it led to reopening the government.” The six-day shutdown turned out to be the prelude to a much longer closure that began December 15, following collapse of negotiations about how to calculate a balanced federal budget. That shutdown lasted 21 days, until January 6, 1996 — a duration record broken yesterday amid the ongoing government closure.)
As the government was about to reopen in November 1995, Gingrich turned again to hyperbole, characterizing the compromise with Clinton as “one of the great achievements in the history of America.”
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