- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005


By Newt Gingrich, Regnery, $27.95, 243 pages

“Politcs,” a near great man once said, “is not process. Politics is history.” It’s an astute observation. Process-oriented politicians are the bane of innovators and true believers. Focused on the need to keep the machinery of government oiled and working, they have little regard for what that machinery is supposed to do or why.

On the other hand, the idea that politics is history produces a view that the nation has been shaped by common experiences going back decades if not centuries. For most of the country’s existence, the values of the current generation of Americans evolved in a linear fashion from the priorities of the past. Politicians who embrace the historical view are more easily able to develop a program for the future, a vision of where America should go and what it must do to get there.

One such political leader is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In his latest book, “Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America,” Mr. Gingrich proposes a series of reforms designed to renew American civilization, a phrase he once used to define the end-goal of his vision for America.

To Mr. Gingrich, the dawn of the new millennium has coincided with a period of great peril for the United States. Of the five threats to America he identifies early in the book — that Islamic terrorists and rogue dictators will acquire and use weapons of mass destruction; that God will be driven from the public life of the nation; that America will lose its patriotic sense of self; that the Chinese and Indian economies will surpass the United States’ because of failing schools; and, that the American system itself will collapse under the combined weight of Medicare and Social Security — four could, as he says, “undermine, even eliminate America as we know it.”

Subtlety was never his strong point.

And yet Mr. Gingrich is correct when he defines the problems as serious, even nation threatening. Big problems demand bold solutions, precisely the kinds of solutions that make process-driven politicians cringe. The risks — loss of power, electoral defeat, inability to rise to higher office — are too great for them to bear.

For Mr. Gingrich, who rose to a position of power second only to the president of the United States on the back of the first “Contract with America,” such concerns are trivial. Having been to the mountaintop, he is once again in the political wilderness — almost the same place he was when I first met him in 1988, seven years before I became the political director of GOPAC, the political committee he led before becoming speaker.

One of Mr. Gingrich’s gifts is his ability to distill what others insist are complex and nuanced problems into a set of clear and opposite choices, something that maddens liberals who seek to win power through obfuscation. His approach also does not sit well with some conservatives — like those who are coming out against President Bush’s call for the addition of private accounts to Social Security — who are busy finding reasons not to do anything. The possibility that Social Security may survive for a few more decades is, to them, a reason to leave it alone. For Mr. Gingrich, that is precisely the reason to take action now.

Mr. Gingrich — to reduce his ideas to their barest essentials — notes that these problems will be addressed in one of two ways: either through solutions that involve a maximum of expense and a minimum of freedom, or through those that maximize freedom and minimize expense.

These choices, and their potential outcomes, are real. One only need look at Tennessee, where the state government was being crippled by the costs associated with TennCare — a government health insurance subsidy for the poor that was once seen as a model for the future — to see that this is true.

The solution to the crisis, as Gov. Phil Bredensen defined it, was to slash the number of enrollees by half and to institute rationing to keep costs down. These were exactly the same kind of “solutions” conservatives like Mr. Gingrich warned would eventually be required if ClintonCare were adopted in the 1990s.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the crisis posed to Tennessee by TennCare is exactly the kind of crisis Mr. Gingrich identified as one of the five most serious now facing the United States.

“Winning the Future” is sure to provoke debate on the left and on the right. The problems identified are real and the solutions proposed are, in the main, sound places to begin the discussion of what is to be done.

Peter Roff is a senior political analyst at United Press International.

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