Monday, November 28, 2011

An Indepth Look at the Governing Philosophy of Newt Gingrich

Politico linked to a great, in-depth interview today with Newt Gingrich back in 1989.  I say great, not because I like what was said but it seems like a clear picture of his governing philosophy, which is quite useful when deciding how to vote.  Now if only the other candidates would have gone to these depths.  I've taken out the key passages below:

Certainly some conservatives have said that government should do nothing. But my view is that since 1968 the country has pretty decisively decided it does not want a left-wing president.  The result has been a center-right governing coalition, which includes Jimmy Carter, who was an aberration.

The country wants that coalition to govern, not juxtapose. So they're going to ask "What are your answers for so many working mothers?  So many single heads-of-households?"  A party which says "We have no answer" or "Our answer is a cultural revolution which will take generations, so in the meantime you'll just have to suffer" is going to be in a minority status.  

What you're going to see is an argument between a governing conservatism, which is pro-active and willing to solve problems with conservative values, and a more theoretical conservatism. 


There's going to be a lot of arguing, but I don't think it will splinter.  In Teddy White's "The Making of The President" from 1960, you will find a description of Theodore Roosevelt and an active conservatism.  That is the model I've had in my mind for 28 years.  For example, we now have a great concept in tenant management and ownership of low-income housing.  That empowers citizens, and says "You're not just a client, you're a citizen.  You have real responsibility and real authority."  If you're truly going to be a citizen, you have to have both opportunity and responsibility. 


On these issues we have a common bonding around a couple of premises. The first is that the concept, liberal welfare state has failed.  Read "City for Sale" by Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrnett, or "Honest Graft" by Brooks Jackson.  You can see that there is a systemically corrupt, liberal welfare state.  The process of giving some people enormous power and calling them bureaucrats, while depriving other people of power and making them clients, rather than citizens, is in the long run corrupting.  That is best expressed by Mario Varga Llosa in his introduction to "The Other Path" by Hernando DeSoto.

There is almost a new synthesis evolving with the classic moderate wing of the party, where, as a former Rockefeller state chairman, I've spent most of my life, and the conservative/activist right wing.  You have work being done by the Heritage Foundation as well as by such moderates as Tom Petri.  Petri has extraordinarily broad support for his living wage concept, which represents an empowerment/citizen choice replacement for the bureaucratic/corrupt, liberal welfare state.


Clearly, I am comfortable taking on Democrats.  I would suggest to moderates that the best example of this is Theodore Roosevelt.  If you're the minority party, you better be able to generate attention.  

You have to convince people that it is worth being part of your group.  By definition, that means a willingness to fight with the Democratic Party.  If the Democratic Party is okay, then why do we need Republicans?  If the Democrats do some things that are not okay, then isn't it our job to point that out?  I just do that more enthusiastically and energetically than has been the tradition in the last 40 years.  Now, the other 95 percent of the time, I've been bipartisan.  Norman Mineta, Jim Oberstar or Frank Anunzio can tell you that.  I've worked with them on House committees.  I also helped found the Military Reform Caucus, although the Washington Post doesn't put that on page one.  If you get involved in a controversy, then that becomes the mesmerizing event that people remember you by.  In general, where confrontation is needed, I'm willing to do that.  But where honest bipartisanship is possible, I'm going to be real practical.


Ripon Forum: Several years ago you described yourself as a "Jeffersonian populist." Could you please explain that?

Gingrich: It's one of the points I make to conservatives who often describe themselves as "Jeffersonian conservatives."  It usually means they want passive, lean, inactive government.  That I would never favor, nor did Jefferson.  He bought half a continent, sent the Navy to Tripoli, and sent a scientific expedition half-way across the U.S. when that was a longer trip than going to Mars today. 

The Founding Fathers were practical men who wanted a system that remained free and worked at a practical level for human beings.  Their vision of America was a successful, working America, and that's why a century, later William James called "pragmatism" the one uniquely American contribution to philosophy.

What I'm suggesting is that it's possible to be a conservative in the broad sense - i.e; the world is dangerous and some men are evil, so government must repress those instincts and protect US from those dangers - and hold that private markets and the rule of law are essential to economic prosperity.  One can hold those broad values and still believe in the cooperative efforts of Americans - whether it is building the Transcontinental Railroad, populating the West through the Homestead Act, setting up the Agricultural Agent system, or any of the innovations which made this such an extraordinary place.

My challenge to all Republicans is to invent the systems and the approaches that allow human beings to help themselves, to think through the replacement for the misgovenance of New York City that will allow its citizens to help themselves.  Then you'll have a remarkable explosion of energy and opportunity.  Centralized government giveaways through politicians and unionized bureaucrats just guarantees the focus on the acquisition of power and invites the systemic corruption which now dominates all big cities and is at the core of our domestic problems.


The Republican Party has to be the party of individual rights and individual opportunity.  It should be for affirmative action but against minority quotas.  There's a big difference.  If a young person of any ethnic background is inadequately educated in math, we should find a way to have compensatory math so that person can try for the best math or engineering scholarship in America.  The problem with quotas is that they say, "For reasons that have nothing to do with you as a person, we're going to punish you.  We're going to punish you if you come from one ethnic background in order to reward you if you come from another ethnic background."  Quotas are contradictory to the desire for an integrated America because they put a premium on figuring out who you are ethnically.

So there you have it.  None of this is frankly that surprising, giving his record but it is still helpful to know the philosophy behind the man.  He is a big government conservative.  He thinks government doesn't work not because of the idea of government itself but because the wrong methods have been used.  That is distinctly not libertarian though it is probably closer to traditional Whig/Republican thought which wanted a more activist government than the states rights focused Democrats.  If his solutions are in place we probably will have a better and smaller government than under Democrats, but we will still be far from having a government at a manageable size.  Is that enough?  It might be this time around because Obama has been such a disaster for this country in terms of both foreign and domestic policy and any improvement is welcome.  But will I have moments when I want to pull out my hair in frustration at having a big government Republican in office?  You bet.  I just think I will end up with more hair than under Obama or Mitt Romney for that matter.

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