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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Getting Along With Speaker Newt Gingrich

The great political event of the American year has been the Republican revival under their new Speaker Newt Gingrich. And the great political spectacle over the next two years will be the battle for power between Bill Clinton and the Congress Gingrich now dominates.


But Gingrich and Clinton actually have much in common. Each man is a baby-boomer meritocrat from the South. Each escaped the Vietnam draft and has confessed to experiments with marijuana. Their only jobs have been university teaching and elected office. They are twin political obsessives, in love with the futurist jargon of institutional and social change.


The difference is that in Gingrich's case the future sometimes sounds like the 19th century. He wants to save money on welfare in order to spend it on orphanages for the children of the feckless poor. It takes extraordinary political cheek to get away with this Dickensian touch in America's season of Christmastide sentimentality.


Gingrich wants to dismantle not only Lyndon Johnson's Great Society reforms of the 1960s, but Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal of the 1930s too. The 1913 reforms of the Progressive era, the income tax and the capital gains tax are also in his revolutionary sights.


He states his mission in grandiose terms: "to shift the planet, to replace the failed liberal welfare state with the Conservative Opportunity Society."


The real question about Newt Gingrich is whether he means it. The promises are revolutionary, but the reality is more measured. Gingrich startled fellow Republicans by campaigning for sanctions against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s.


He came into politics as youth chairman for that most liberal of Republicans, Nelson Rockefeller's presidential campaign of 1968. In those years he was no stranger to marijuana or to the sexual revolution. And while Gingrich campaigns against textbooks which dare to suggest there is something normal in gay relationships, he has declared that he did "not want to see police in the men's room."


Generational change has finally hit the Republicans. They campaigned with a new generation of leaders and candidates whose principles and memories date from era of Ronald Reagan, rather than of Richard Nixon.


Under Gingrich's lead, they are campaigning against what Gingrich calls "the counter-culture years" of the 1960s. He blames that liberal era of sex and drugs for America's social ills.


"Until then, there was an explicit, long-term commitment to creating character. It was the work ethic. It was honesty, right or wrong. It was not harming others. It was being vigilant in the defense of liberty. It was very clear and we taught it."


"It is impossible to maintain civilization with 12-year-olds having babies, 15-year-olds killing each other, 17-year-olds dying of AIDS and 18-year-olds receiving high school graduation diplomas that they cannot read," he says.


But the paradoxical hard core of the Gingrich project is that it requires a powerful and intrusive government, imposing a national (and nationalist) educational curriculum and inspiring the American public to its future mission with grandiose national projects like space exploration.


So, a Christmas tip to Russian policy-makers: To get on with Newt, think galactic. Talk about joint manned missions to Mars. Offer to share the Energiya rocket. And be very rude about the 1960s.