Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House and espouser of big ideas, has discovered two old political verities: our education system is broken and the nation’s infrastructure needs an overhaul. Both have been true for decades. They were true when Gingrich was forcing his tribal doctrines on Congress and when, later, he described George W. Bush as a “transformational” president.
For Gingrich, the trouble is he did nothing for education when he had power and he was opposed to funding infrastructural repair. While Gingrich was trumpeting Bush’s ability to change the nation, the president was bringing about change at home through neglect and change abroad through interventionist war.
Now, the price is to be paid–the astronomically high price. Get out your wallets, your children’s wallets and your grandchildren’s wallets.
Gingrich’s Republican Revolution is a tattered thing now. His “Contract with America” is never mentioned. His term limits idea is no more viable than Esperanto. The man who believes that private enterprise and the free market are the balm of hurt countries is observing the nationalization of a large chunk of the finance sector. It is hardly the kind of transformation Gingrich expected from the Bush administration.
Despite this litany of events that has turned Gingrich’s dreams to nightmares, we need thinkers more than ever. If Gingrich had been less wedded to the Republican orthodoxies (now crumbling) and given his ideas free rein, he might have had more enduring successes. Real ideas are more enduring than party fealty expressed though party-speak.
Whoever wins in November–now hard upon us–has to approach the business of government in the immediate future as a new paradigm: pragmatism first and ideology second.
The problem with ideology is that it inhibits ideas and produces rigidities that inhibit the natural immune systems of countries from functioning. If the Democrats had not been so ideologically wedded to the purposes of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, they would have sided with conservatives to control these monsters before things went hopelessly wrong. Likewise, if conservatives had not developed a pathological hatred of regulation (oversight, really), some alarms over the house of cards on Wall Street may have been noticed. As a prophylactic, regulation can only be measured in its absence. There are no bonuses for good regulation.
It is up to creative people, like Gingrich, to introduce House Republicans and the party’s base to this big idea: things have changed. All of those robust slogans of the 1990s are obsolete. So is the idea that good results in government will axiomatically flow from personal rectitude, including faith, family, patriotism, a love of small government, and a belief that our institutions of government are irresistible to the rest of the world.
In many ways, Republicans are better equipped to prepare themselves for the future than Democrats. Republicans do have leaders, like Gingrich and Rep. Roy Blunt, who are equipped to mold a new party philosophy. They also have a corps of literate thinkers on the op-ed pages, including George Will, David Brooks, Bill Kristol, Kathleen Parker and Charles Krauthammer.
These days the Democrats have no living heroes. The Clintons are contentious and Jimmy Carter is a liability. In both the House and the Senate
Democratic leadership is weak. Neither Nancy Pelosi nor Harry Reid can stir the emotions.
Most of the print liberals lag their conservative counterparts. Harold Meyerson is the most articulate; but outside of the liberal circle, he is unknown. Maureen Dowd writes well but is too shrill to be taken seriously. And Richard Cohen is read for pleasure, not ideology. Hence, the ridiculous expectations Democrats have for Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC talkmeistress.
But one commentator cannot turn back the dominance of broadcast commentary enjoyed by conservatives. Gingrich had a lot to do with that, too. He welcomed right-wing radio-talkers into Congress and gave them workspace.
They will not like what, I believe, they will hear from Newt and others next year. The page is turned.