You must admit, there's something Churchillian about Newt Gingrich. He may not be the most beloved politician on the national scene, but Newt always has his eye on the ball. Nobody does the issues better.
This casts Newt in the role that Churchill played when he was an obstreperous backbencher warning about the Nazis in the 1930s -- or perhaps what Ronald Reagan did in the 1970s when he was hounding the Republican Party by running against incumbent Gerald Ford. Neither man enjoyed his present historical reputation at that point. Churchill was an aging wonder boy who had turned into a national annoyance. Reagan was still considered an overly ambitious actor trying to play the part of a politician. Only when history turned in their direction did both men emerge as the peerless leaders they eventually became.
I confess I have some experience with Newt, having helped him write his $7-million book, To Renew America, after he became House Speaker in 1994. (He gave the advance back, remember?) Newt was a prolific ideas man who only needed a little pruning here and there. He wrote most of the book himself. We haven't communicated much since and I still haven't quite gotten over his celebration of beach volleyball at the 1996 Republican Convention. He still scores high negatives and most people find him polarizing. Although his current spouse seems amiable enough, I don't know whether voters are ready to turn over the White House to a third wife. Nonetheless, every time I find myself exploring some new avenue for the future of America, I find Newt had been there and is coming back.
So here's the possible scenario. Three years from now we're still in the same bind we're in now only worse. Social Security revenues have turned negative (they just missed by $2 billion last year), the budget deficit is still in the trillions, the avalanche of Medicare is starting to rumble overhead. Joblessness is stuck around 10 percent, men are still spectacularly underemployed, and the only work available is tending people in hospitals and pushing the elderly around in wheelchairs -- all on the government dollar.
Do you think Newt's talk about "drill here, drill now" is going to resonate with voters? Do you think people will decide it's time either to revive American industry or resign ourselves to being an economic colony of China?
But let's not look that far ahead. How about concentrating on this year's Congressional elections? Think it's time for a new "Contract with America" that would solidify Republican ranks and give the public a sense of what the new majority would bring? Well, don't worry, Newt has already done it. In the current issue of Newsmax, Gingrich not only lays out a ten-point proposal but outlines a strategy for fitting it into the election campaign.
Here are Newt's suggestions for a 2010 Contract With America:
1) Jobs, jobs, jobs. Gingrich recommends a 50 percent reduction in payroll taxes, a 100 percent write-off for small business investment in tools and technology, zero capital gains, and lowering the corporate tax to 12.5 percent. Obviously, we are talking about private sector job creation.
2) Balance the budget. From 1994 to 1998, federal spending growth was held to 2.9 percent annually, the smallest increases since Calvin Coolidge. The result was four years of surpluses and a $405 billion reduction in the national debt. Much would now accomplished by devolving power to the states under the 10th Amendment.
3) An American Energy Plan. Drill here, drill now. Build nuclear reactors. Rein in the Environmental Protection Agency's "bureaucratic dictatorship on energy production."
4) Congressional Appropriation Reform. Eliminate earmarks, post bills 72 hours before voting, reverse the Republican spending habits that undermined fiscal discipline during the Bush Administration.
5) Litigation Reform. The states have found the quickest and cleanest road to tort reform is to cap open-ended "non-economic damages." Compensating hospital costs and lost wages is fine, but open-ended awards for pain-and-suffering or punitive damages are limited only by jurors' imagination. With these few limitations, we can have lawsuits without throwing whole industries out of balance.
6) Real Health Reform. Allow the sale of health insurance across state lines, extend the tax benefits given to employees of large corporations to everyone, promote Health Savings Accounts -- all the things that Republicans perennially propose and Democrats dutifully dismiss.
7) Every Child Gets Ahead. The best and only way to improve education is to promote and facilitate vouchers, grants, and charter schools. If the public school system ever comes around, it will be in response to this competition.
8) Protect Religious Liberty. Defend the religious majority from a "shockingly and increasingly anti-religious elite" and "block every effort to coerce religious people on abortion, marriage and other issues of conscience and drive God out of public life."
9) Protect Americans, Not the Rights of Terrorists. Let's put an end to the nonsense about treating invading terrorists as domestic criminals and see them for what they are -- enemy combatants.
10) Defend America. "Rebuild our capital investment in the powerful defensive force in the world." If done properly, this can be reconciled with balancing the budget.
Ever the tactician, Newt also offers a set of guidelines for shaping and unveiling the new Contract:
1) Concentrate on real issues that already have voter approval.
2) Present the document as a forward-looking alternative, not a backward-looking recrimination.
3) Stay positive and optimistic.
4) Keep the document a House of Representatives affair. Invite the Senate to join but don't negotiate. "The House is inherently a team institution while individual Senators have enormous power."
5) Give the deliberations plenty of publicity over the summer holidays but don't unveil the final document until after Labor Day, when people really start to focus on the campaign.
I don't know about you but all this sounds like a winning formula to me. The Republicans can't just sit back on their recent election triumphs and expect November to follow the same script. A dozen things can happen and the whole political landscape may change. The economy could start improving, unemployment may drop, the Administration is already tacking tack away from some of the more volatile issues like civilian trials for 9/11 terrorists. Then Democrats will be dusting off their old slogans about a Republican victory being a return to the bad old days of George Bush.
The Tea Party Movement is giving the Republicans enormous electoral impetus. But somebody's got to channel this energy down a useful path. I think Newt's got the right idea.
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