Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Newt Gingrich Visionary or Pretender?

Scenes from the Gingrich Campaign
Don't rule out Newt in 2008.
Weekly Standard
Matthew Continetti

...There was a period when Republicans weren't so enamored with Gingrich. By the time he announced his retirement from Congress after the 1998 midterm elections, Gingrich's towering ego--he once scrawled a note in which he described himself as "leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces" in the battle to renew "American civilization"--and his combative, quirky managerial style had alienated most of his caucus. And while Gingrich knew many of the men and women who would assume top positions in the Bush administration, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, during the 2000 campaign candidate Bush had made it a point to repudiate the Republican Congress, saying, "I don't think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor."

Suddenly Gingrich had become the Republicans' prodigal son. Out of office, newly married to his third wife--with whom last week Gingrich admitted to having an affair during the Clinton intern scandal--he was in political exile. But the exile kept busy. He founded Gingrich Communications, which handled his many lucrative speaking engagements. He created the Center for Health Transformation, a for-profit think tank devoted to fixing the health care system. He joined the American Enterprise Institute and became a political analyst for the Fox News Channel. And every so often he would surface--from the depths--and generate headlines: his attack on the State Department in the spring of 2003, his advocacy of Bush's prescription drug entitlement later that year, his disavowal of L. Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, his scathing criticism of the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, his attack on Rep. Tom DeLay and the other K Street Conservatives--many of whom had been his friends and allies--in the run-up to the 2006 elections, and his pronouncement last summer that America had entered World War III.

Gingrich, like many political exiles, is a prolific writer. Always a voluminous reader, in retirement he became one of Amazon.com's top book reviewers. (He's also written reviews for this magazine.) And he has continued to write novels, alternative histories in which the forces of American civilization face down counterfactual adversity and ultimately triumph over evil. He's written two books on health policy in consultation with his associates at the Center for Health Transformation. He's written a book called Rediscovering God in America. But most important is his Winning the Future, published by Regnery in 2005, a bestseller that doubles as a policy agenda.

Winning the Future is the latest title in what might be called Gingrichiana, a literary genre that began with the publication of the future speaker's Window of Opportunity in 1984 and continued through the then-speaker's To Renew America. A Ph.D. in European history from Tulane, Gingrich has made no secret of his intellectual mentors: futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler, management gurus Peter Drucker, W. Edwards Deming, and Joseph M. Juran; and a shelf-full of military theorists and historians. Gingrich's published writings are a condensed soup of all these thinkers. They are written in the format of management tomes--using headings like "The Five Pillars of American Civilization" and "The Six Challenges Facing America" or the bullet points and short section titles that make Winning the Future assume the character of a PowerPoint presentation--but at times read like science fiction. "We have no notion at present what benefits might accrue by interfacing a mentally retarded child and the right computer system," Gingrich writes in Window of Opportunity; "in a zero-gravity environment, a paraplegic can float as easily as anyone else."

Depending on one's point of view, by the end of these books Gingrich reveals himself as either a visionary or a pretender, a world-historical figure or a goof playing at the highest levels of national politics...


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