Former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Newt Gingrich is a friend of mine. I had met him for the first time at Mount Vernon in Washington for his book premiere “To Try Men’s Souls.” It is a novel he co-wrote with historian and reenactment buff William R. Forstchen about the events and battles surrounding George Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware during the American Revolutionary War. Indeed, we live during times that try men’s souls.
Newt is a passionate man. A former professor of history in Georgia, a Future Studies fan (my graduate political science adviser, Jim Dator at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, being a well-known futurist), and a member of the House who rose rapidly from the back benches to become Speaker, he is better known for his Contract with America that brought in scores of Republicans into the majority in 1994 in the Congress. Since then, the Republicans had lost their way and returned to minority status in 2006, with Newt Gingrich himself leaving the Congress much earlier, while former president Clinton was still in office.
Since leaving office, he founded an organization called American Solutions. Its purpose is to provide common sense solutions to America’s most difficult policy problems and Newt is not shy about using his clout and connections as a former Speaker of the House to lobby for his ideas through his organization.
Friends do disagree (and they should because otherwise they are not friends) and it is important that the culture of Washington returns to a period when that is okay, no matter which political party one belongs to or does not belong to, because policy making is as much an exercise in crafting the appropriate solution as it is the process of politics to get the job done by turning the solution into policy. Both Bill Clinton’s and Newt Gingrich’s rise in Washington had also seen a dramatic rise in political partisanship, confusing the business of politics with personal relationships. The politics of personal destruction was mutual and it is time to change that. Doing so was the motivation behind me becoming a political scientist beginning 1992.
But for a political culture that had bred personal animosities, the two most gifted politicians in recent American history, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, could have changed America rather than working to do the same in their respective retirements from elected office. It is therefore time to put into proper perspective a few seminal aspects of Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions agenda with which I disagree so as to get them right.
I had written a critique of President Obama’s and the Democrat Congress’s health care agenda called “Obamacare” in a newspaper Op-Ed and a blog article in September last year. As someone who relishes the tête-à-tête of politics, it is gratifying that my characterization of the President’s health care plan as “Obamacare” had resonated with the rest of Washington.
American Solutions is missing the point when its highlights its 5 point critique of the current health care bill pending in the Congress. Yes, Medicare cuts can politically scare away seniors from the Democrats in November. But the more important issue is: should President Obama continue to sustain LBJ’s Medicare and Medicaid at all or is there a better way to cater to the poor and the needy elderly?
On the knotty issue of abortion, even if the Republicans succeed in scaring away the elderly on Medicare from the Democrats, they will scare away women from their own party on the abortion issue. On net, it would be a political wash, handing the President his bill. Therefore, unless this President, who is just as gifted a politician as either Clinton or Gingrich, if not more, the Republicans are going to lose the health care fight.
Women ― our spouses, partners, mothers and daughters ― deserve both responsible sexual freedom as well as the flexibility under law to be responsible mothers of future generations of Americans. The morning after pill must be legalized in the United States. Abortion, albeit legal, must be uniformly restricted after the discovery of pregnancy across the country by federal law, except under the most trying circumstances. Adolescent abstinence from teen sex, adoption and contraception must be encouraged to create a culture of sexual and parental responsibility.
The sentiment of American Solutions, if not its reasoning, is valid that there are sound public policy reasons why the current health care bill must not pass. The purpose of defeating the current health care bill must be to return to the drawing board once again because there are better alternative proposals such as mine that I published on the president’s Organizing for America blog and on my own web blog.
That the health care bill must begin anew is a consensus within the Republican party that is championed by the party’s recent nominee for president, John McCain, whose campaign for president I had briefly helped besides supporting the President in his primary run, being a political independent. So, the Republican party can be a constructive contributor and the President gets a reprieve to get his health care principles enacted properly into law for both sides to declare victory by serving the country first.
In the 5 point critique, American Solutions makes another important point about political corruption driving the health care legislation. As both Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich can attest to, given their public conversation in New Hampshire on campaign finance reform that had kicked-off the debate on the issue in the ‘90s, the perceptions, allegations and the realities of political corruption have largely to do with political fund raising and the influence of lobbyists paid by one interest group or the other for the purpose of maintaining the status quo. And the recent judgment of the Supreme Court on campaign finances, which has been appropriately criticized by the Obama administration despite the public chagrin of Chief Justice John Roberts, neither helps the Clinton-Gingrich rhetoric nor the McCain-Feingold law. There are better ways to reform campaign finances to both raise funds and to keep out special interests that thwart meaningful change.
The vigorous and open argument among the justices about corporate contributions to political campaigns is encouraging because of the dissent of the minority rather than the precedent-overturning majority opinion in favor of a skewed interpretation of the First Amendment. At issue, the majority must understand, is not money as free speech but the capacity of the exercise of free speech of a monied few to stifle that of the many in a system of one person, one vote that provides the most fundamental citizenship privilege of political participation to influence the laws of the land.
Therefore, the process of campaign financing must also embody the principle of one person, one vote de facto as much as it does de jure. It is easier to prove the outsized influence of large political contributions to influence politics than it is to prove political corruption, because at stake is the excessive capacity of a few interest groups because of money to influence the legislation itself rather than seeking quid pro quo favors. Then, favorable legislation becomes the legal cover for excessively self-interested behavior.
In my view, political contributions must be, by law, limited to what an average American can give, earning the nation’s per capita income. About 10-dollars-a-day limit for all the political campaigns registered with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) is a fair amount. All contributions must be made only by individual citizens. Permanent residents and corporations must be outlawed from making political contributions. A simple, back of the envelope estimate for all 140 million or so U.S citizen tax paying households will yield $5 trillion in one year if we assume that each household contributes $1 every day. The last election costed $1 trillion for all presidential candidates put together. Meaning, equitable fund raising at the individual level can fund presidential elections for the next 5 terms.
The Republican party is experiencing an identity crisis. And this identity crisis is largely defining the agenda of American solutions. That God is an integral part of American culture does not invalidate the separation of Church and State. Further, their separation invalidates neither Church nor State. It simply makes for a country that complies with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, by interpreting secularism properly as describing the peaceful co-existence of multiple faiths in the spirit of the American founding, not the modern European ideology of the eradication of faith from society.
The United States of America is a state of de jure secular faith and so will (shall, should) it remain. And that is the only American solution that should serve as the moral compass for all other American solutions.