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A Sweeping Declaration of Intent: Gingrich unveils new “21st Century Contract with America”

A Sweeping Declaration of Intent: Gingrich unveils new “21st Century Contract with America”

If ever there is going to be a moment for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to create momentum and change the flat trajectory of his presidential run—now is the time. One day after the release of a Fox News poll, which surprisingly showed him gaining substantial ground in the race, Gingrich took to the stage at the Principal building in Des Moines to unveil his newly minted “21st Century Contract with America”.

Updated from the 1994 version, this new contract will serve as the backbone of his campaign and its acceptance or rejection will determine his fate one way or the other.

In the world of presidential politics such fate is largely decided by three things—the style, the substance, and the politics. Here is a brief analysis of all three.

The Style

By any objective measure this event was a success for the former speaker. It displayed a candidate and a campaign that, at a minimum, is hitting its stride and indeed may be ready to become a major player in the race going forward.

Standing on a small stage at the bottom of a room that can be best described as a large movie theatre, Newt showcased many of the positive characteristics that have marked his long political career. He spoke for an hour without a teleprompter or notes and smoothly communicated his message to the audience while appearing very comfortable in his own skin.

The setting was remarkably similar to a college lecture hall and his experience as a professor no doubt factored into his comfort level. Much like his strong debate performances of late, this setting played to his strengths and the result was a candidate able to speak to a variety of issues in a succinct, relaxed, and presidential fashion.

The Substance

After being presented the outline for his new “contract”, one thing is certainly clear—this is a campaign that will not lack grandeur.

Quickly letting the audience know how high he thinks the stakes are, he explained the reasoning behind the large scale of his vision by saying “countries can die without adequate leadership”.

By and large the 21st Century Contract with America is a sweeping document of declared intent. In most cases the solutions he outlines are intentionally vague as his plan is to slowly codify specifics as the campaign progresses. Following a “national conversion”, the aim is to have the contract fully fleshed out by September 27th of next year.

His solutions are largely modern day Conservative Republican fare (not a bad thing), whose main thrusts are to inject simplicity and choice into the dealings that we as citizens have with government. Any American serious about vetting the Republican candidates needs to read through the document on their own (availiable here), but here is an overview on a few major issues.

His first order of business would be to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a free market set of solutions to bring the cost of insurance down. The overall structure of our health care system would basically remain in place while insurance policies would be made portable, able to be purchased across state lines, and able to be optionally blended with personal health savings accounts (even in Medicare and Medicaid). These things along with tort reform and digitalizing medical records would attempt to radically decrease premiums without the use of mandates.

He would work to strengthen Social Security while keeping it at the Federal level and push for a voluntary option for young people to put a portion of their contributions into a Social Security savings account. The owner of this account could then choose to take this money and retire (or not retire) at any age they wished.

Perhaps the most interesting areas of this document come under the headings of taxes and immigration.

His business tax proposals are to reduce the corporate tax to 12.5%, abolish all capital gains and estate taxes, and allow 100% write offs in one year for all new equipment purchases. Personal income taxes would be handled by offering a choice to each citizen to either pay under the current system or file with a newly offered one page option. The one page would consist of taking your income, subtracting a standard deduction, taking a deduction for charitable giving and home ownership (if applicable), and multiplying that number by a single set percentage (which is left unspecified).

The headline on his immigration initiative is that there would be a deadline date for securing the border by January 1st, 2014 (“secure” is left undefined). Though it is not stated the inclusion of a firm date strongly suggests that following “securing” the border would be some form of amnesty. While a few years ago this idea would have been a non-starter for a large block of Republicans, currently the reality seems to have set in that this type of a trade-off is the only way to deal with this problem and finally move forward.

The Politics

Skeptics of the recent Gingrich campaign surge could doubt that he has the fiery sizzle to overcome his slow start and existing baggage— and be justified.  Meanwhile critics of his 21st Century Contract with America could attack the plan for being a little light on specifics (especially since Newt is not prone to lack of minutia)—and attack they may.  That being said, going forward this campaign has many more advantages to exploit than disadvantages to fear.

Here are six factors that point to his candidacy not only continuing to build on its current momentum, but that also have the potential to thrust him into the top three in a short amount of time.

#1) His mastery of the debate format, the reason that he has recently gained ground, will be an ever-growing advantage moving forward.  As the number of candidates on stage dwindles he will be allotted more and more time and will be more easily compared to the less capable candidates.

#2) Republicans are likely to recognize that a supremely informed, smooth, and skilled debater will neutralize Obama’s biggest advantage (smooth flowery rhetoric).

#3) Now that he has a specific doctrine to anchor his campaign the focus will shift there and drift away from the personal issues that previously have been sucking up oxygen and damaging his campaign.

#4) A close examination of his policy proposals reveals that he has a large number of Tea Party friendly stances and would garner their support, while not being too linked to them to hurt him in a general election.  In 2012 Republican politics this is what you call “the sweet spot”.

#5) The concepts of personal choice, competition, deadlines, fresh ideas, and lower taxes that are found throughout his platform will all appeal to true political independents—namely those that voted for Obama last time thinking that’s what they would be getting.

#6)  As the race gets closer and more real, Republicans have a track record of deciding on the grounds of experience and perceived wherewithal to win…McCain anyone?  Consider this— it’s easy to make the argument that he is as capable, if not more so, than Mitt Romney, while it’s hard to argue that he is not more Conservative.

The bottom line politically is that Newt stacks up well to the rest of the field in many categories while largely lapping them in depth and substance.  As the race wears on he, oddly enough, finds himself with many advantages to gain from and plenty of time to do it…and he certainly doesn’t have to worry about peaking too soon!

In terms of the release of the new contract and the impact it will have on his campaign the analysis is fairly simple.  The concept of a contract with the American people was a great idea and a brilliant political vehicle in 1994…and it still is in 2011.


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A Sweeping Declaration of Intent: Gingrich unveils new “21st Century Contract with America”

American Gladiators II: A Painful Look Back…A Bright Future Ahead

The Following piece is the 2nd installment of an ongoing series here at The Conservative Reader. “American Gladiators” is a recurring feature focusing on the defining political issue of our generation: the crucial battle over Federal spending and the debt and deficit it creates.

A favorite saying of both political parties these days is that “elections have consequences”—2010 proved that so do primaries. For Republicans no past event has had a bigger impact on the eventual major players and the shape of the fiscal debate’s battlefield than the primaries preceding the 2010 mid-term elections.

Though history now, you may recall at that time an internal debate was raging amongst Republicans. Many influential Conservative thinkers, including Charles Krauthammer, joined a large number of high ranking members of the Republican establishment in warning against selecting “unconventional”, mostly Tea Party backed, candidates to compete against Democrats in liberal leaning districts.

Though admittedly unappealing, this camp made the case that in selected states it would be wiser to support more moderate Republicans who had a greater chance of winning in traditional Democratic strong holds. They particularly took issue with Christine O’ Donnell in Delaware, Linda McMahon in Connecticut, and Sharon Angle in Nevada, all of whom went on to win their primaries but lose in the general election.

While the stand was principled, harnessing a populist movement is difficult, and there is no guarantee a more main stream Republican would have won, it is fair to at least consider this rejection of political pragmatism as an over reach by the Tea Party… and one that had painful consequences.

Working without anesthesia, Dr. Hindsight unmercifully reopens the wounds when one considers how much better Republicans would be positioned with just four more Senate seats. Having a majority in this body to go along with the one already had in the House would have provided Republicans a massive strategic advantage. Specifically, it would have allowed them to not only pass unified bills on spending cuts and the budget, but to bypass the Senate buffer the President currently enjoys and send the bills directly to his desk. Removing this Senate buffer would have enabled Republicans to repeatedly, and at will, draw him out on targeted issues. Imagine a scenario in which every week he was forced to either agree and sign a bill, or veto it and go on record resisting specific cuts.

Any Democratic strategist would tell you that either of these actions would be vastly damaging to his re-election bid. Should he sign, his base would trample themselves in disgusted exodus, while a veto would leave him constantly defending unpopular expenditures, and require him to personally counter-offer with specific proposals (not his strong suit). Such extended exposure on vulnerable ground would have in essence reworded the old political axiom “sunlight is the best disinfectant” into “sunlight is the best infectant”.

In spite of these lost opportunities, snapping out of the past and returning to the present finds Republicans still in very good shape. Though it includes a few head scratchers, the polling data on long term budget issues strongly favors the GOP position. The best news is provided by the findings on the debate’s two most fundamental questions: Are budget deficits and the National debt widely perceived as problems? And, do people feel that success from Republican plans is fundamentally possible?

As to the first, a CBS News Poll (March 18-21,2011-m.o.e=+-3) found that 68% of respondents felt that the budget deficit was a “serious problem”, while another 26% termed it “somewhat serious”. Only 5% thought it was “not too serious”.

While beyond promising, perhaps the better news comes from a Bloomberg National Poll (March 4-7, 2011-m.o.e=+-3.1) which asked “Do you think it is, or is not possible to bring down the deficit substantially without raising taxes?” The results reveal a clear path to victory. 61% felt that it is possible, while only 37% thought it was not. This is critical because not raising taxes is both the exact approach taken by all the Republican plans, as well as one of the main criticisms leveled against them by opponents.

While it is true historically that the particulars of a proposal are less popular than its concept, starting with numbers this high leaves room for weathering the inevitable loss of points forthcoming now that specifics of the plans have been revealed. If the caustic attacks on the plans as being “extreme” are able to be zeroed out by the number of converted skeptics, there likely would still be ample room to compromise with Democrats on some points, which for passage in 2012 is an absolute must.

While looking back at what could have been is painful, the opportunity to win is still very much within reach. Given that the Tea Party is solely responsible for the fact that we are even having this debate, it is hard to criticize it. That being said, it is wise to note the times that the movement’s fierce purism creates a double-edged sword.

We will never know if different Republican primary candidates would have resulted in a Senate majority, but we do know that winning on an issue this big will require both strategy and some compromise. Going forward it will be fascinating to see to what extent the Tea Party tolerates each to be in play, if at all.

Sometimes the most nuanced political analysis is worthless and the whole issue comes down to a simple question. This appears to be just such an issue and the question that victory hinges on is: “Do the American people believe that remaining on the current path will end in a financial disaster?”

For the reasons given above, if I was looking at this and was a gambling man—that faint sound you hear would be my chips…smoothly sliding across felt.

A Sweeping Declaration of Intent: Gingrich unveils new “21st Century Contract with America”

OppurtuniTEA to RealiTEA

In a lot of ways you wouldn’t need much of a crystal ball to see this coming: A Country over 13 trillion dollars in debt with a government either completely ineffectual or damaging in nearly all spheres except military, enacting massive expenditures passed against the majority opinion of its citizens, which gives rise to a movement that wants to stop spending money it doesn’t have and return their government to its Constitutionally relegated space.  These people have been branded with a name: the Tea Party, which is weird because I have never been to a party where everyone is this mad.

Much has been said about this newly minted surge and much is known.  Though you may not have needed it to see it coming, that crystal ball sure could come in handy when trying to envision how the Tea Party will attempt to pivot from being a movement to achieving movement.  Being that mine seems to be broken about half the time I’ll just tell you that if I could write the script it would look something like this.

Never minding how sad it is a movement is needed for this, the beauty of this uprising is the underlying confidence that is implied by the movement.  The confidence of the people in saying we can take care of ourselves.  We, as Americans, can make decisions on a personal level to better ourselves and our Country while weathering the results.  Let us keep the vast majority of our own money and we will be the stewards of our own future.

The next step is to have the fortitude to extend this confidence into the political proposals that will be forthcoming after the mid-term elections, when at a minimum Republicans will control the House, if not the Senate as well.  Here is what I mean by this– the process for passing legislation in Washington is to argue for it by making grand proclamations for how some bill’s passage will control costs, provide this or that, or stop this or that.  Once passed the game turns into one of managing expectations.  When a bill is written never is there included benchmarks that need to be met for it to be continued, no rip-cord provisions stating that if certain measurable effects that have been promised do not materialize in a certain amount of time the bill is nullified or re-opened for debate.  The reasons for this are obvious.  First, when you pass bills upwards of 1,500 pages for a country of over 350 million people nobody knows what will really happen.  Second, it flies in the face of political self-preservation by opening the door to, god forbid, being proven wrong.

A perfect example of this is the Obama administrations hollow promise that the Stimulus Bill would keep unemployment below 8%.  One that while politically damaging does nothing to stop the economic consequences that its failure has brought.  The point here being that if you are confident in your claim-put it in the bill.  Include language that if the unemployment rate goes above 8% the spending is stopped outright or a vote on its continuance is triggered in the legislature.  Since no sane person from either party would, in hind-sight, trade spending a trillion dollars for 9.7% unemployment we could have had the bill discontinued at a cost of $200-$300 billion, instead of spending it all and having the president simply change his argument to “well unemployment could be at 16%.”

This is where the Tea Party movement and the candidates that it produces have a real chance to differentiate themselves from the weak- kneed slop that has been served up in recent memory by both parties in the economic realm.  If the ideas are right and the desired results are indeed forthcoming, have the confidence to put it in writing.  If the policies deliver you go from a small movement that champions a huge shift in the direction of the Country to a proven entity with the ability to actually get it done.  In other words; Step up, Throw down, Win big, or Flame out.  If you don’t think that this is a strategy that the American electorate would fully embrace, you haven’t looked around much lately.

We as Americans are ingrained, if not obsessed, with competition resulting in either winning or losing.  We don’t watch American Idol and Survivor in embarrassingly large numbers for 12 weeks to be told all the singers are equally as good and that everyone gets to stay on the island and split the money.  Americans are not rabid about sports so we can watch our teams play and discuss amongst ourselves who we thought was the better team that day.  We don’t watch soccer, not just because well…its soccer, but because we can’t accept the concept of a tie, nor should we.  There is not a doubt in my mind that Americans, especially the massive number of politically apathetic ones, would be interested and invigorated by a movement that had the courage to offer an agenda that says not only will we do x, y, and z (akin to the Contract With America), but that this agenda will then deliver x, y and z, and if it doesn’t we were wrong and will go away.

The perfect place to start would be in the areas of taxes and health care as these both can be impacted in the short term and have solid, near real-time measurables.  The proposal for health care would look like this: offer tax breaks to the lower and middle classes while opening up the health insurance industry to nation-wide Capitalistic competition.  If after a period of somewhere between 1 to 3 years prices on average have not gone down a certain percentage the bill is ended and the debate is re-opened.
In terms of taxes- the party would settle on a tax strategy, be it a flat tax, a consumption tax or just lowering the current progressive rate.  Then  a proposal would be offered  that states- we will lower/reconfigure the way you pay taxes and at the end of a set period of time it will result in some combination(to be specified in the bill’s language)of  higher GDP, a lower National debt, and more employment.  If it does not then we return to prior policy and the debate is restarted.

Not only would this approach let potentially ineffective legislation be discontinued and give the American people a chance to clearly judge the success of our ideology, the real benefit is what could be achieved afterward.  If these bills delivered on their promises the trust needed to tackle larger and longer-term problems would begin to be established.  This bold approach could create the political capital and trust that is required to move forward with things like removing Federal money from education and privatizing or vastly reducing Social Security.

Near is the time that these Tea Party candidates will be running in and winning a sizeable number of general elections.  With this will come the reality of actual bills that contain actual legislative language.  This phase in which the Tea Party goes from the philosophical to the literal is the critical moment that will determine its ability to deliver.  Though most involved won’t want to hear it, this is the point where the Tea Party inevitably, at least to a degree, will lose its “leaderless” status  as legislative proposals have to be authored, co-authored, and submitted by actual Congressmen and Congresswomen.  This is not necessarily something to be feared if the right people take up the task.  The preceding thoughts are in a way a plea to these legislators to be bold and embrace the spirit of confidence inherent in the movement that will have placed them there.  Conservatives have long been fond of saying that we win in the arena of ideas – soon will come both the time and opportunity to prove it.

Though this level of political risk is highly unorthodox it is most certainly American in spirit.  From our founding, quite fittingly, to the very nature of Capitalism that we have thrived on for centuries we have craved competition, embraced the possible glory of winning, and never feared the possibility of losing.  When the time comes, and it is coming soon, for the men and women we elect to put the pen to paper and attempt to realize the potential of this political movement I only hope that that this is the spirit that guides them.  To them I say simply – Step up, Throw down, Win big, or Flame out.

A Sweeping Declaration of Intent: Gingrich unveils new “21st Century Contract with America”

The Tea Party Movement: The New Civil Rights?

Man with bullhornThe Civil Rights Movement that culminated in the 1960’s was an important movement towards the advancement of equality for all Americans.  While artificial and fundamental hatreds will likely always exist between disparate people groups, the relative harmony that has been experienced in this country over the last forty years is likely unprecedented in the history of the world.  To create equality of opportunity for all of a society’s individuals and to simultaneously provide an environment free of the expression of abusive power of one group of people over another is a seldom seen accomplishment.  America has been a place where these goals are thought by many to actually be within reach.

Last week, the former President, Bill Clinton, made comments linking the Tea Party Movement to the worst act of domestic terror that has ever been experienced in our country’s history.  The Oklahoma City bombing was a tragedy of massive proportion.  Apparently, Mr. Clinton believes that the same ideological forces that motivated the bombers of the Federal Building are those that now motivate those that gather under the Tea Party banner.  To consider this comment reckless and irresponsible is to understate its vitriolic intent.  It is almost impossible to adequately underscore the complete disconnect between the former President’s “I feel your pain” tone with his real message. Farcical messages delivered with a level of alleged caring are amongst the most dangerous.  It is reminiscent of the initial tempting of mankind in the Garden of Eden.

The reason the Civil Rights Movement emerged was that a people group was being treated unfairly and were being oppressed by a system that stood for a higher principle than was being observed.  And there were those who at the time “stood up” and said that what was happening was both immoral and evil.  Most people of conscious knew that this situation needed to be fixed, with the only differences of opinion coming in terms of the appropriate means to that agreed-upon end.  We humans are endowed with a sense of justice that transcends both our group distinctions and our distorted modern media coverage.  We know injustice when we see it.  The only question is whether we “stand up” and voice our disaffection.  Mr. Clinton must certainly understand this attribute of a liberal democracy such as ours, as he was a societal product of the 1960s.

The only difference between the Tea Party Movement and the Civil Rights Movement is the nature of the oppressor.  The driving force behind each of the movements is the same.  In both cases a minority group is passionately expressing a very heartfelt concern that their individual liberties are being violated and that their freedoms are being abused by a tyrannical oppressor. In the 1960s the oppressor was a racial group.  In 2010 the oppressor is the Federal Government and the Obama Administration. Both movements were asking for something quite simple: just treat us with fairness.  To believe that one of the movements was racial and the other ideological, and that they are therefore different, is to miss the obvious common factor.  It is a distinction without a difference.

Can the evils of an oppressive system cause certain rogue individuals to take actions that are legally inappropriate and even reprehensible?  The answer is obviously yes.  But that is not the point, and the former President knows it.  The Civil Rights Movement created some very ugly scenes. For purposes of this discussion, let’s remember the situation in Detroit in the summer of 1967.  Would Mr. Clinton ever think to link Civil Rights and Detroit?  No.  He does not cast himself in the role of oppressor in either situation.  He rather sees himself as a liberator.  And in his self-analysis is his error.  Until the liberal left comes to see themselves as the real oppressors, we will continue to hear the same insulting and condescending rhetoric.  Funny thing: Vladimir Lenin didn’t see himself as an oppressor either…he saw himself as a liberator.

Tea Parties Coming…

Tea Parties Coming…

If you’ve been listening to the conservative talk shows lately, you probably already know about these anti-tax events being held throughout the country.  People are turning out in droves to show their support for lower taxes, better tax structure (like the Fair Tax), and support smarter, smaller, government and spending.

Here in Des Moines, there are two events that I’m aware of.

One is scheduled for April 11 at the Iowa State Capitol.  I don’t know the time yet… I will update you when I do know.  Chris Reed is reported to be the MC for this event.

The other is scheduled for April 15, also at the State Capitol, from 11 to 2.  This group has a web site setup at

If you are concerned about where taxation at all levels of government are heading, attend one of these events.  I expect that both events will have great speakers present.  And politicians actually pay attention when large numbers of people show up.

I’m sure we’ll have more information here as these dates get closer.

Update: change start time for April 15 event.  – Ed

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