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Which brings us back to Newt.
As conservatives love to say, ideas matter. Ideas have consequences. And so they do. This is precisely why from Columbia to UC to the UCC, Jack Murtha and Barry Manilow (and the list goes well beyond two universities, a church, a congressman and a pop star), the freedom — and the willingness — to tackle large issues and genuinely engage dissent in the American dialogue is so critical.
Without question one of the single most important aspects of the modern conservative revolution has been its intellectual vitality. And no small part of that vitality has been provided by Newt Gingrich. Long before the 1994 Contract with America that laid the intellectual foundation for the first GOP-controlled Congress since 1954, Gingrich’s unique combination of intellectual rigor, curiosity, endless imagination, energy and blunt language was already throwing into relief (sometimes a decidedly uncomfortable relief) both the intellectual and actual corruption of the American left as well as the internal problems of the Republican Party.
As a triumphant GOP gathered in Dallas in 1984 to write the party platform that would sweep Ronald Reagan to an overwhelming re-election, it was Gingrich who started teeth grinding with his observation that Senator Bob Dole, then the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, was “the tax collector for the welfare state,” thus highlighting the problems with what Barry Goldwater had once called the “dime store New Deal.” He was particularly stark in his later appraisal of the forty-year Democratic-majority in the House of Representatives, repeatedly painting its leadership (notably Speaker Jim Wright) as “the corrupt left-wing machine” that existed solely to run “the corrupt liberal welfare state.” These kinds of remarks and the actions that went with them (it was Gingrich’s filing of ethics complaints against Wright that eventually led to Wright’s downfall) engendered a fierce backlash among Democrats, making Gingrich target number one for any and all comers as he finally succeeded in driving Democrats from the cozy precincts of unchallenged Congressional power. A perch they had occupied with only two two-year interludes since 1932.
His own ascension to the House Speakership made him one of the most powerful Speakers in American history. The triumphs (the passage of the Contract with America) and the failure (resignation from the House following the Clinton impeachment furor) similarly threatened to take him straight from the top to the political bottom. But Gingrich is nothing if not resilient, and his intellectual voltage made a return of some sort to the center of the nation’s political life almost a certainty.
No one who has spent time listening to Newt Gingrich on television or in person, can have any serious doubt that he has successfully emerged in a role once predicted by the late Republican National Committee chair Lee Atwater: “He can truly be a national political guru for our party. He can be a spokesman, he can be a philosopher, he can be a strategist for our party. As Teddy Roosevelt once said about the bully pulpit, Newt Gingrich has an opportunity to be as big a man as he can be.”
THE QUESTION OF THE MOMENT for some is whether all of this opportunity includes a race for the GOP presidential nomination. But whether Gingrich does or doesn’t run, whether he ever becomes president or never becomes president, he has already well-established himself as perhaps the most influential individual thinker in the modern Republican Party and perhaps in the national political life — period.
It is no slap at any of the potential-GOP nominees now actively campaigning — or for that matter to George Bush and Dick Cheney — to acknowledge that Gingrich stands alone as someone who has aggressively spent a lifetime making himself at home in the world of ideas. Indeed, like the two American politicians he perhaps most resembles in this regard — President Woodrow Wilson and the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan — Gingrich, a former history professor, holds a Ph.D.
So quite beyond the insistent question of whether Gingrich will or will not run for president and the inevitable discussion of his political assets and liabilities, the real focus with Gingrich must always include a consideration of “what’s Newt thinking?” The answer at the moment is typically Newt. Given the current climate where the left is intent on strangling dissent, it is noteworthy that Gingrich has gone out of his way to make several days worth of an upcoming program he calls American Solutions (americansolutions.com) genuinely inclusive and intellectually diverse. Dissent is, in the eyes of Newt Gingrich, a good thing. Listening to his critiques of his former House colleagues and the current state of the GOP may cause some to chafe, but maybe — just maybe — they should.
If you want to know what Newt is thinking lately about government, health care, national security, religion and all the rest, he, unsurprisingly, wants to know what you think. There is no small irony that the place to go for a genuine dialogue about America is the Internet (americansolutions.com).
Sadly, Lee Bollinger’s sharp remarks to Mr. Ahmadinejad notwithstanding, you won’t find much dialogue, let alone American solutions, at Columbia University. Or for that matter with the Regents of the University of California, or in the Reverend John Thomas’s United Church of Christ or in a debate on the floor of the U.S. House with John Murtha. Or even in a conversational duet with Barry Manilow.
That’s not only too bad — in a free country, it’s dangerous.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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