Good money has it that Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker chased out of Congress in 1999 by Democrats smelling blood in the waters of the unethical tidal currents always swirling in and around the halls of power in Washington, D.C., is on his way back. Recently, the online version of The American Specator included musings by a regular contributor about Gingrich's political future. There is no question that Gingrich is laying the groundwork for a major assault on the Democrats in 2008. He is working hard on a revised Contract With America and promoting his vision, which is always sharp and crisp, at every opportunity.
If I were to continue the metaphor, I might bet that Gingrich is predicting and assuming that the Republicans are going to take it on the chin in the mid-term Congressional elections this fall (I wouldn't go so far as to say he is hoping for this), creating a void into which he will then step and lead his party's vision makers with more of what made him successful and famous the first go-'round. Whether this leads to a run for president or more likely a cabinet-level post if the Republicans hold on to the White House is anyone's guess. My best guess is that he does not have the stomach or the thickness of skin to withstand the withering assaults on his personal failings that will surely play front and center in any serious election campaign.
Leaving aside the constant issue of Gingrich's personal baggage, which is hardly irrelevant in the matter of leadership and loyalty, there is something about Gingrich's new message that suggests something less than a revolution in the making. Even the motivation for the message rings more like partisan politics than political statesmanship. Just yesterday, Gingrich published a call to arms, in line with recent speeches and clearly signaling to those willing to listen among the disenchanted and nervous Republicans. Entitled "Our Majority Is in Jeopardy," Gingrich tells the story of his dare to challenge a long-held "minority-psychology" and to provide, along with others, the inspirational leadership that led to the great victory of 1994. Alas, something has changed:
But today, 12 years later, conservatives are grasping for a reinvigorated movement that will return our party to its roots of smaller government, innovative ideas and common sense solutions. The situation is serious. We are in jeopardy of losing the majority we won in 1994. Now is the time to act.
When Gingrich and Dick Armey put together the original and inspirationally straightforward Contract with America in 1994, which most commentators on the left and right credited with bringing the Republicans back into the majority in the 104th Congress, it rang true because it spoke directly to the issues of the day. Welfare reform, tort reform, tax reform, accountability in Congress -- these were on point and on message.
Today, there is something pallid about the new manifesto. Something is missing. In setting out the main points of the new challenges to overcome, Gingrich speaks in a voice groomed and manicured with the clippers and combs of a political campaign already tested in the inner chambers of the political strategists. Thus, he begins by warning that America's future, like all great dynasties, is not assured: "The future cannot be left to chance. The future must be won."
In this warning and charge, Gingrich speaks of battles or games, we're not sure which, to overcome a future that might otherwise be anything other than blessed. The threat of "chance" already sets off alarms. Did we not learn from Ronald Reagan, this country's greatest leader since Abraham Lincoln, who also taught us the same lesson, that ours is a destiny blessed from on high if only we don't turn our back on it? Is there not something palpably different in the cognizance of "chance" and the "winning" of a future not granted from the destiny of a people so great and so blessed that all we need do is defeat our enemies and get the incompetence of big government out of the way of the most talented people on the planet?
Today, in order to win the future, there are five challenges that America must meet:
1. Confronting a world in which America's enemies, including the irreconcilable wing of Islam and rogue dictatorships, could acquire and use nuclear or biological weapons;
2. Defending God in the public square;
3. Protecting America's unique civilization;
4. Competing in the global economy in an era of the economic rise of China and India, which will require transformations in litigation, education, taxation, regulation, and environmental, energy and health policies for America to continue to be the most successful economy in the world;
5. Promoting active, healthy aging so more people can live longer, which will require dramatic transformation in pensions, Social Security and health care.
Gingrich of course does right by beginning his list with the threat of Islam. But he is not prepared, again as Ronald Reagan was, to call a spade a spade. What is the "irreconcilable wing of Islam"? Or, better yet, where is the reconcilable wing of Islam? In which Muslim country has it flourished? Where do we see Muslims standing strong and publicly for freedom and peace, save a few lone voices of western educated "infidels" who have rejected Islamic law, the literal understandings of the Koran, and hundreds of years of Islamic traditions?
Is the war between Islam and the West really just about an "irreconcilable wing of Islam"? Is there a contrary Islamic literature of peace and co-existence extant today? Are there Islamic social institutions dedicated to combating this "irreconcilable wing?" Is "irreconcilable" another word for "fundamentalist?" Are their substantial numbers of devout, believing and practicing Muslims that embrace America and the West? Do they reject the terror of Hamas? Do they turn their backs on the Imams preaching hatred and violence daily around the world? Do they scorn them publicly?
Why do observant Jews, who embrace the literal understanding of the Bible and a total commitment to Jewish religious law, have no problem living in America and the West? Why do Christians, and here we speak of the most devout, faithful and fundamentalist, abhor violence and travel the world to feed and educate the poor and downtrodden? Is there not something essentially different between the world of Islam and the Judeo-Christian one? Why would he not state the obvious? Our greatest enemy today is Islam. The only Islam appearing in any formal way around the world is one that seeks a world Caliphate through murder, terror and fear.
Gingrich is no fool and it cannot be that he really believes in an "irreconcilable wing of Islam." He knows full well that the millions of passive, law-abiding Muslims in the West (assuming that they actually exist in those numbers -- and I doubt it) are no different than the millions of passive, peace-loving communists in the former Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Korea and elsewhere who believed in Marx and Hegel but weren't prepared to die or kill for those beliefs. And knowledge of those less than enthusiastic communists did not prevent him from recognizing the abject evil and threat posed by communism and communists. So what gives? Why the dance?
Is it possible that he is afraid to say what he knows to be true because he is grooming "the middle ground," the ground of a country awash in liberal relativism and multiculturalism such that to label Islam an evil simply would be to court political disaster, at least according to the political strategists and mavens?
But this strategy will neither win over America's heartland nor will it defeat the enemy. This country's destiny and divine blessings are enshrined in this country's manifest goodness and contribution to mankind, but these Divine Goods will not flow without a physical vessel to receive them. A country unwilling or incapable of resisting existential threats will simply cease to exist. Evil and evil empires must be recognized before they can be confronted.
Items two and three on the list are just as pallid. What does Gingrich mean by defending G-d in the public square? Is this any G-d? Might we include Allah and his ravings against the culture of the West? What is unique about this country's civilization? Its economy? Its pornography? The social welfare system that has created an African-American subculture that embraces poor English, illiteracy, sexual conquest, violence and drugs? (Lest I be accused of generalization and racism, I am just more or less describing rap music and hip-hop, or put another way, paraphrasing the comedian-actor turned outspoken social critic, Bill Cosby.)
Gingrich's failure to speak directly to this country's Judeo-Christian values and beliefs as its greatest strength is again telling about the man and his new agenda. Who wrote the Constitution? Who fought a revolution for human dignity and freedom? White male Christians. That is a fact. With all of their foibles, these were our founding fathers. That there were "deists" and even "atheists" among that crowd is almost not even noticeable when compared to the deep and manifest acceptance of the Judeo-Christian worldview expressed in the churches, the statutes, the traditions, the political rhetoric and more.
If we all can agree that the enslavement of the Africans was a tragedy for this country, for the slave owners, and for the slaves, might we also all agree that it was white Christians who demanded an end to the slavery? Do we find that Islam as an ideology and Islamic law as its normative code forbid slavery and human exploitation? Why do we in America have such a hard time embracing that which makes us great and free? To say that liberty makes us great and free is a bit of a tautology is it not? The Bible has always been, until possibly the last decade or two, the most popular and widely read book in this country. Why in Gingrich's entire article on preserving America's national existence and future is there no word of this except in an amorphous articulation that might have been licensed by campaign strategists. Is Gingrich articulating a future for America or for the "middle wing" of the Republican Party and for control of Congress and the White House? Are these futures necessarily identical?
Finally, and practically out of breath, we can only note that the last two items on Gingrich's list sound more like cheerleading for a proactive government than it does for a Reaganesque "get government out of the way of the American people." On these two points, however, I am willing to concede that the problems of our day and Reagan's are not the same. Maybe government is just so intrusive that to live in a country where we speak of a man's abilities and responsibilities and not of his "rights" and "needs" is beyond us. I hope not, but we will need to hope and pray for the next Reagan to spring from our midst. As much as I admired Newt Gingrich in 1994, and I had a special relationship with him through his former wife Marianne, I fear he is not the leader we await.