Friday, September 30, 2011

The Last, Best Chance?

Newt Gingrich announced his 21st Century Contract With America, which will be the basis of his Presidential campaign. Listening to Newt in the long form reminded me of all of the reasons I thought he’d be a great President. No other candidate offers this combination of inspirational vision and detailed thought as to how to achieve it. You’re lucky to get just one of these from the existing roster of candidates. Indeed, several of them have neither quality.

The CSPAN video of his full presentation is embedded below, it’s terrific stuff. Included is a bracing description of the scale of the problems we face, and according to Gingrich (a former American history professor), it’s our biggest challenge as a nation since 1860. He also understands the imposing nature of the interest groups and institutional momentum that will try to maintain the status quo and has plans to confront them. Whether those plans survive first contact with the enemy is an open question, but he’s the only candidate who seems to understand the need to proactively organize to defeat them.

Most of his presentation deals with how to resolve the economic crisis we’re experiencing. As we’ve come to expect from him, Newt’s got an abundance of ideas and plans and details to throw at these problems. They include bold reforms for energy production, government regulation, health care, size of government, and federal income taxes. For good measure, he throws in some ideas to rebalance the power dynamic between the braches of government (increase legislative, decrease judicial) and also cure Alzheimer’s disease.

He conveys the proper sense of urgency as well. He’s got a initiative called “On Day One” where he promises to sign between 50 and 200 executive orders right after being inaugurated, to immediately begin righting the ship and detaching ourselves from the Obama agenda. His plan is to have them all posted by October of next year, so voters will know exactly what they’re buying. He’s got a few of them up on his website already and he’s taking suggestions for more. The ones posted are rather underwhelming, but there’s only so much you can do via executive order. For the bigger reforms, Gingrich emphasis that his administration will return to the regular order of legislation, with subcommittee hearings and mark-ups and time for deliberation and discussion before voting - another refreshing change from the current atmosphere of rushed midnight votes on massive legislation that no one has read.

I admit, a few of his ideas seem to be out of left field, for example, his emphasis on funding research on “brain science” (the phrasing of which has a distinctly Bush-like quality). And he’s too easy on entitlement spending, which he doesn’t even mention (other than lowering Medicare costs by curing Alzheimer’s disease via brain science). But even these aspects strike me more as overly ambitious flights of fancy than as flawed reasoning or ideology.

The overall impressions you’re left with from his 21st Century Contract with America is, ironically enough, hope. There actually is a way to get the budget into balance, to pay off the Chinese, to eliminate unsustainable spending imbalances for the long term, and all via hard work and innovation, two things Americans excel at. That’s the kind of message that can fire the imagination of the voters, far more than any vague bloviating about hope and change and fairness and sticking it to the rich

If Gingrich does get the chance to run against Obama, you’ve also got to love his idea for debates. No more journalists setting the agenda of what will be discussed. Instead, he’d challenge Obama to seven “Lincoln-Douglass style debates” of 3 hours each with no moderator. If Obama would accept the terms, what a clear and informed choice the voters would be presented with and what great TV that would be.

For now, we just have Newt in a monolog, which is still pretty good. Watch the video below and I defy you to tell me that Mitt Romney or Rick Perry or Herman Cain would make a better candidate, or better President.