- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2011


One would be hard-pressed to find a better example of sheer, misguided reporting than the story in The Washington Post over the weekend in which it was reported that ” Newt Gingrich thinks he can revive his debilitated campaign by talking about Alzheimer’s. … For most presidential candidates, Alzheimer’s is a third- or fourth-tier subject, at best.

“But as Gingrich sees it, Alzheimer’s, as well as other niche topics such as military families’ concerns and pharmaceutical issues, are priorities. … By offering himself as a champion of pet causes, Gingrich believes he can sew together enough narrow constituencies to make a coalition - an unconventional one, yes, but a coalition nevertheless.”

Now, I admit, Newt is my old boss, and I am a friend and great admirer of his, so I am hardly an unbiased source. But I also happen to be pretty familiar with Newt’s public ideas over the years.

To read the article in question, one would think Newt had thought up this little “niche” Alzheimer issue a couple of weeks ago - just in time for his revived campaign. Well, in fact, I remember Newt talking to me about the coming crisis in Alzheimer’s back in the 1990s. And in 2007, the Alzheimer’s Association along with the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease called for the creation of the Alzheimer’s Study Group. Newt was named co-chairman, along with former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey.

On March 25, 2009, they reported back to the Democratically controlled Senate. Newt and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a study group member, testified before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. You should watch the hearing from C-SPAN archives. Newt’s testimony was brilliant. Senators, both Democratic and Republican, asked Newt question after question, and they were enthralled with his deep understanding of the issue. Newt even offered, spontaneously, in the hearing an explanation of the unique challenges of the mathematical processes in Alzheimer’s research.

Although the reporter of the weekend’s Post article obviously doesn’t know it, Alzheimer’s is not a “niche” issue.

The bipartisan study Newt co-chaired reported that unless there are breakthroughs in the diagnosis, treatment and reduction in the rate of Alzheimer’s, Medicare and Medicaid will spend nearly $20 trillion on the treatment and care of the disease by the middle of the century - a trillion dollars a year by 2050.

As Newt’s co-chaired report explained, “The Alzheimer’s crisis, like the disease itself, will unfold gradually, making it all too easy to ignore until we have little opportunity to alter its impact. … If we fail to address the Alzheimer’s crisis now, we face the prospect of losing lives and dollars on a much larger scale. … Alzheimer’s disease is already the Nation’s third most expensive disease, costing the Federal Government alone more than $100 billion per year. … An investment in Alzheimer’s is not only good social policy, it is an economic necessity.”

Yeah, just another $20 trillion “niche” issue. The fact that The Post story is correct in saying that for most presidential candidates “Alzheimer’s is athird- or fourth-tier issue, if that,” is not a good argument for the other candidates.

Breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s and diabetes - another issue Newt has seen coming and has been fighting hard for at least since the 1995 Medicare reform bill would, by themselves, largely solve our Medicare and Medicaid cost problems. Too bad Washington didn’t take Newt’s advice two decades ago.

Consider the other “niche” and “pet” issues The Post story sneers at Newt for discussing - pharmaceutical costs and taking care of military families. Well, pharmaceutical therapy is the cornerstone of modern medicine. It is the “primary mode of treatment for over 85 percent of conditions that, without therapy, would result in the need for hospitalization of the patient.” It is approaching 20 percent of all medical expenses and going up fast. Some “pet” issue.

As to the issues and costs of taking care of our military families, anyone remotely familiar with the projections of the defense budget knows that if we don’t improve the attitude toward and better manage the costs of taking care of our military and veterans and their families, we will risk lower volunteer rates and unsustainable cost increases. Once again, Newt has been advocating shrewdly about this matter at least since the 1990s, when he used to discuss it with me and others. Of course, Newt came from a military family, so he had an unfair advantage in understanding the issue.

At a time when the combined intellect of Congress and the executive branch can’t seem to think its way to even a single interim solution to a single one dreadful problem on our nation’s ever-expanding list of them, perhaps the media (and the public) might want to stop sneering and take a serious look at Newt’s ideas. He’s got a lot of them - and almost all of them would be an improvement over current trends (about which about three out of four Americans believe we are going in the wrong direction).

Tony Blankley is the author of “American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century” (Regnery, 2009) and vice president of the Edelman public relations firm in Washington.

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