[Paleopsych] NYT: Newt's Comeback

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The New York Times > Books > Books of The Times | 'Winning the Future':
Does Tomorrow Belong to Gingrich's 'Popular Majority'?
Does Tomorrow Belong to Gingrich's 'Popular Majority'?

WINNING THE FUTURE: A 21st Century Contract With America
By Newt Gingrich
243 pages. Regnery. $27.95

    In his sloppy, poorly reasoned new book "Winning the Future," the
    former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich sets up an either/or dynamic
    between "the liberal elite minority" and "the popular majority," and
    makes this aggrieved assertion: "Since the 1960's, the conservative
    majority has been intimidated, manipulated and bullied by the liberal
    minority. The liberal elites who dominate academia, the courts, the
    press and much of the government bureaucracy share an essentially
    European secular-socialist value system. Yet they have set the terms
    of the debate, which is why 'politics as usual' is a losing
    proposition for Americans."

    Never mind that the Republicans currently control the White House and
    both houses of Congress. Never mind that a majority of the nation's
    governors are Republicans and that a majority of Supreme Court
    justices were appointed by Republican presidents. Never mind that Fox
    News further established itself as the dominant cable news network
    last year, outdrawing all of its competitors combined in prime time
    and extending its lead over CNN. Never mind that the Bush
    administration argues the last election gave it a mandate for the war
    in Iraq, or that it is now pushing Social Security reform (of a sort
    supported by Mr. Gingrich) and a conservative agenda on a host of
    social issues.

    Indeed Mr. Gingrich's complaint that "the liberal elite minority is
    winning and the popular majority is losing" suggests that the author
    still has a mindset from the 1980's and early 90's (when his party was
    in the minority and he made a name for himself as a backbench
    revolutionary). It also points to larger problems with this book as a
    whole: the author's fondness for reductive Manichean dichotomies; his
    tendency to ignore facts that might contradict or undermine his
    thesis; and his substitution of attention-grabbing assertions for
    thoughtful analysis.

    Similar problems contributed to Mr. Gingrich's fall from grace in
    1998, when he announced that he was stepping aside as speaker and
    leaving Congress in the wake of unexpected Republican losses in the
    midterm elections.

    It was a fall brought about, in part, by Mr. Gingrich's reputation as
    a polarizing bomb-thrower, his proclivity for overreaching, his
    failure to unite House Republicans around a persuasive agenda and his
    misreading of the public mood about the impeachment of President Bill
    Clinton. Combined with voter anger at the Republicans for the
    budget-related federal shutdowns in 1995 and Mr. Clinton's co-option
    of issues like welfare reform and a balanced budget, these missteps
    helped sink Mr. Gingrich, the man who four years earlier had been
    hailed as a visionary for winning Republican control of Congress with
    a 52-seat pickup and a controversial Contract With America that
    proposed to radically cut back the size of the federal government.

    In "Winning the Future," Mr. Gingrich hops and skips over his earlier
    travails to deliver a kind of updated version of the Contract With
    America, a move that also seems designed as the opening sally in a
    political comeback attempt. Book-tour stops in Iowa and New Hampshire
    are on the author's schedule, and much of the volume reads like a
    platform for a possible 2008 presidential run.

    As with the 1994 Contract With America, Mr. Gingrich here stresses
    less regulation, more free enterprise, lower taxes and fewer
    entitlements. But some chapters suggest that the author is trying to
    reposition himself within the Republican Party: whereas Mr. Gingrich,
    as House speaker, was more identified with tax cutters than with
    social conservatives and the religious right, he includes an entire
    chapter in this volume about "the centrality of our Creator in
    defining America" (in which he rails against what he calls "the
    secular left's unending war against God in America's public life"). He
    vigorously endorses President Bush's plan to export democracy to the
    Middle East (he calls it "the only strategy that can make America
    secure"), but acknowledges the alarming inadequacies of the
    administration's postwar planning: "Iraq is a mess," he writes. "It is
    going to remain a mess for a long time."

    Like his 1995 book "To Renew America," this volume is replete with
    windy talk about big, ambitious plans (in this case, remaking health
    care and the Social Security system) but short on details,
    slip-sliding over counter arguments and practical impediments to his
    vision. Mr. Gingrich calls for an intelligence community "about three
    times the size of the current system," but fails to explain how this
    would be paid for, how it would be organized or how current problems
    (from the F.B.I.'s failed computer systems to interagency turf wars)
    would be corrected. He writes at length about the difficulties faced
    by the current Social Security system, but fails to apply equal
    scrutiny to the risks and costs involved in setting up personal
    investment accounts.

    On other subjects, Mr. Gingrich settles for chirpy, Pollyanna-ish
    assertions and fuzzy musings about the sort of technological change he
    has long championed. On health care and balancing the budget, he
    writes: "We must transform the health system so people can live longer
    and healthier lives while taking 20 percent out of the cost of the
    system. We can achieve this through the efficiencies of information
    technology, and by the kind of waste reduction and productivity
    increases that have been common in manufacturing for the last 30 years
    and in service industries for the last 15 years."

    Many of Mr. Gingrich's arguments are riddled with gaps in logic. While
    he repeatedly ratifies the presidency of George W. Bush in this book,
    he complains that the Supreme Court - which effectively decided the
    presidential election of 2000 - has become a mechanism by which
    "appointed lawyers can redefine the meaning of the U.S. Constitution
    and the policies implemented under that Constitution either by
    inventing rationales out of thin air or by citing whatever foreign
    precedent they think helpful." He adds that "this is not a judiciary
    in the classic sense, but a proto-dictatorship of the elite pretending
    to still function as a Supreme Court," and yet he cites overrulings
    and reversals by the Supreme Court to try to impugn decisions made by
    the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which he scorns even more.

    This same chapter, "Bringing the Courts Back Under the Constitution,"
    is filled with vintage Gingrichian bomblets sure to provoke talk. He
    asserts that "there is significant precedent in American history for
    believing that the legislative and executive branches can force the
    judicial branch into changing its views when they are out of touch
    with the values of the vast majority of Americans." And he argues that
    "Ninth Circuit judges who found the motto 'one nation under God'
    unconstitutional could be considered unfit to serve and be impeached."

    These are the sorts of pronouncements that won Mr. Gingrich attention
    as a minority firebrand before the 1994 elections, but they are also
    the sorts of pronouncements that got him into trouble as speaker of
    the House. He seems to be hoping that this time they will help him
    assume the moniker of the Democratic president he was so obsessed
    with: the Comeback Kid.

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