The Consortium

Muddled on the Right: The Gingrich Revival

By Sam Parry

House Speaker Newt Gingrich still is nursing his wounds from an official ethics reprimand and an unprecedented $300,000 fine. But the Republican visionary-in-chief has used the time out of the spotlight to plot how he can resurrect the GOP's political fortunes -- and his own. He's come up with a three-page proposal which diagrams the thoughts of Speaker Gingrich on creating "a new vision for the Republican party."

Entitled the "Movement Planning Proposal," Gingrich lists 12 things the Republicans should do to recapture the White House, while also keeping a Republican majority in Congress, and establishing a monopoly on Washington power "for a generation." In his grand scheme, Gingrich muses, "If we succeed by 2017 (after 16 years of a Republican President and Congress, the FDR parallel) what will success be like?"

But the Gingrich plan concentrates more on style than substance. Among the prominent points in the proposal are thoughts on how to package a Republican message for leadership. Item #2 reads, "Continuous process of planning and leading: Vision, strategies, projects, tactics -- Listen, learn, help, lead." Item #8 stresses positive thinking:

"We are FOR rather than AGAINST
"We are Inclusive rather than Exclusive
"We find challenges and opportunities rather than problems"

When Gingrich does get down to what he's actually for, however, it sounds much like Vice President Gore's plans for re-inventing government. Gingrich stresses "modern management ... so we can have better services through a smaller government at less cost to create a stronger, freer more prosperous America." He advocates "modern science and technology." He's all for encouraging "wealth creation through the private sector." He wants Americans "to pursue happiness as a right and not merely a promise."

But as Gingrich readies his policy bromides -- and readies himself to "listen, learn, help, lead" -- some Republicans are no longer so thrilled about following. In an article in the March 17 issue of The Weekly Standard, an influential conservative magazine, senior editor Andrew Ferguson chides Gingrich for authoring a long-winded agenda that leads nowhere in particular.

"The harsh truth, in short, is that Gingrich's Movement Planning Proposal, insofar as it is a proposal for a plan for a movement, is no help at all," Ferguson declares. The review dismisses Gingrich's proposal as "gibberish imprinted by pseudo-science, since it has been plumped and processed and tested in focus groups."

Ferguson does have a few words of praise for Gingrich's resilience in surviving "a harassing 'ethics investigation.'" But Ferguson lambastes Gingrich's style as "modular," and influenced by "that great literary genre, the pop business book." Gingrich's method, says Ferguson, "is to take a series of banal propositions and make them as complicated as possible, by means of lists, diagrams, and jargon." Ferguson adds, "And to think that most Republicans just want him ... to cut the capital-gains tax!"

While Gingrich struggles for the words and thoughts to justify a generation-long GOP power monopoly, his vague manifesto -- and Ferguson's blunt explanation of what most Republicans just want -- speak volumes about the challenge facing the conservative movement. In a post-Cold War world, the conservatives have a potent infrastructure to devise and promote a policy agenda. They've got think tanks, magazines, newspapers, TV networks and direct-mail fund-raising galore. But they have few clear-cut issues that appear likely to capture the public imagination.

The policy vacuum creates another danger for the Right. If the conservatives have less and less to advocate -- and the over-hunted species of liberals becomes a less inviting target -- the conservatives will have little left to snipe at other than each other. In that sense, The Weekly Standard's bashing of Gingrich may be more a portent for the Republican future than Gingrich's dreams of a generation-long Republican monopoly on power.

(c) Copyright 1997

Return to Other Stories Index

Return to Main Archive Index

Return to Consortium Main Menu.