Newt Gingrich and “the vision thing.”

Back in 1987, when he was campaigning for President, one of George H. W. Bush’s advisers suggested that he back off from spouting minutiae to the electorate and spend some time focusing on the big picture, So that he could better sell himself to Americans.  According to contemporaneous reports, Bush, Sr., was not impressed:

“Oh,” said Bush in clear exasperation, “the vision thing.”

Bush went on to win the 1988 election, despite his failure to articulate a vision for the American people.  He didn’t have to engage in inept abstract fumbling to endear himself to voters.  What he understood, consciously or unconsciously, was that Reagan had articulated “the vision thing” so beautifully that it covered, not only Reagan’s own administration, but Bush’s election efforts as well.

It helped, too, that Reagan passed on to his Vice President a roaring economy and a country that still maintained at least the gloss of an American identity.  Back in those days, even though I was only just out of law school (meaning I’d spent the previous 19 years in academia), I’d never heard of political correctness, community activists, multiculturalism or Howard Zinn.  I called myself a Democrat and had never heard of a Progressive.  Although these ideas were making serious inroads into American education in the 1980s, those of us who cast our votes in 1988 were still relatively untouched by the revamping of America’s self-image.  Nobody needed to tell us who we were, because (probably thanks to Reagan) we already knew.

Things are quite different as we head toward the 2012 election.  America is in a deep economic morass, college students and Communists are rioting in the streets, Europe’s economy is collapsing, China’s economy is shrinking, and the Middle East is a more-seething-than-usual cauldron of antisemitism and anti-Western hatred.  Times such as this would seem to cry out for a strong managerial hand.  It ought to be Mitt Romney’s moment.  After all, he radiates wonkish competence.

And yet Mitt Romney is not the conservative candidate of choice.  Instead, he’s the conservative candidate of “we’ll take him if we can’t find anyone else.”  If you look at the alternatives, the ones who have risen and then fallen, all have one thing in common:  they’ve got “the vision thing.”  Mitt is disciplined, effective, intelligent and decent, but he’s not a visionary — or, if he is, his rhetorical skills are too weak to convey that vision to the American people.

Mitt’s problem is that not all of America’s current wounds can be measured with economic charts and analyses about our friends and enemies abroad.  Both Barack Obama’s presidency and forty years of relentlessly Leftist education and media saturation have severely damaged America’s sense of self.  As a nation, we no longer have a unifying vision.  Our children have been raised to think that we are now and always have been a racist, imperialist, overbearing, heartless, capitalist monster that preys on weak, victim-class individuals and helpless third-world nations.  The fact that readily available facts put the lie to this ideology doesn’t help these children and young adults.  Instead, when the Leftist ideology that dominated their education meets the facts on the ground, that clash creates a paralyzing cognitive dissonance.  The result sees the members of Generation ZZZZZ marching through the streets, grimly clutching their iPhones and computers, whining about student loans incurred at fancy Ivy Leagues, and hysterically protesting against corporations and banks.

America’s impaired sense of self pre-dates Obama’s presidency.  Indeed, it was this pre-existing psychological damage that put Obama on the path to the White House.  He made Americans feel good about themselves, not in traditional terms (individual liberty, melting pot strength, world bastion of freedom, etc.), but in wonderful New Age terms:  we were all going to come together in a giant kumbaya circle, and throw our ill-gotten capitalist gains into a giant, village style collection bin set up in the heart of Washington, D.C..  Then, the Capitol, under Obama’s magical aegis, and with help from a supportive Democrat Congress, would lower the seas, clean the air, cause the lion (and myriad polar bears) to lie down with the lamb, and generally bring about an environmentally perfect socialist utopia.  If you liked fairies and unicorns, Obama was your man.

Back in the 1950s, had a candidate spouted this utopian vision, he would have been laughed off the national stage.  A generation raised on Depression and War was a bit too sophisticated to buy into political fairy tales.  Back then, Americans knew who they were:  tough survivors; a free people who, at the cost much American blood, had brought that freedom overseas; and innovators.  They did not believe in pixie dust.  This latest generation, however, raised on self-loathing, needed a fairy tale, with the kiss of a handsome prince magically making everything better.  To many, Obama was that prince.

The Obama fairy tale, sadly for his followers and sadly for this nation, did not end with the kiss and a formulaic “they lived happily ever after.”  Instead, we’ve had almost three years of utopian reality, which has been remarkably painful.  Obama and his crew have offended our allies, pandered to our enemies, presided over the break-up of a stable (although always ugly) Muslim Middle East, destroyed our gains in Iraq, presided over the longest recession in our history since the Great Depression, increased our debt and deficits to previously unimaginable limits that will burden our children and grandchildren, laid the groundwork for destroying the best medical system in the world (and that’s true despite inequalities in the systems), handed over billions of taxpayer dollars to cronies, killed American citizens with bizarre “crime fighting” plans across our Southern border, increased racial divisiveness to a level not seen since the early 1960s, and generally left Americans prey to a doom and gloom that seemed inconceivable when they elected the magical unicorn man.

What Americans feel now is despair.  Or as Jimmy Carter might have said, malaise.  Democrats are stuck with Obama, but Republicans have the opportunity to select a candidate who will articulate a core American vision.  As our desperate search for the anti-Romney shows, we don’t just want a competent, clean-cut wonk; we want someone who bring to life a unifying vision of this nation, not as some sort of post-American socialist paradise, but as an entirely American bastion of freedom and opportunity.

For all his baggage and, yes, periodic political instability, Newt is that spokesman.  The breadth and depth of his knowledge, his cheery demeanor, his up-beat campaign, his wit and erudition, his scary deep understanding of how Washington works, and, above all, his manifest love for America — all of these things promise voters an alternative vision to Obama’s 2008 “kumbaya world” or his 2011 “everybody is evil and stupid except for me” world.  It helps that Newt’s skeletons, rather than hiding demurely in closets, are out dancing merrily in the streets.  Everything about him will be hashed and re-hashed, but it will all be old news.  To the extent there are “surprises,” they will be mole hills, not mountains.

In this lost and confused time, Americans need a clarion voice.  If Romney is the chosen Republican candidate, I will happily vote for him, as I believe he will be a perfectly decent candidate, able to un-do much of the damage Obama and his cohorts caused at home and abroad.  But Romney is not a clarion voice, and Newt is.  It’s that “vision thing” that explains why I think Newt will win the 2012 Republican nomination — and take the White House too.  America didn’t need it in 1988, but it sure needs it now.

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  • Rhymes With Right

    But you and so many others overlook something key about Newt — he is a divisive, polarizing figure who is hated by most liberals  even as he is disliked by many on his side of the ideological divide.
    I’ll use my wife as an example.  You know she is a Democrat, but she isn’t hard Left.  She backed Hillary in 2008, but gladly voted for Obama in the fall.  Today she is irritated with Obama and not terribly supportive of him.  If I had to make a guess, she may not vote next fall — but might be persuaded to vote for Romney.  But as she said to me last week, “You folks would be really stupid to nominate Gingrich.  I’m not happy with Obama, but I will go out to vote for him if it means keeping Newt out of the White House.”
    Let’s face it — we are going to need folks like my wife next fall to beat an incumbent president.  We need to draw them to vote Republican, not drive them into the arms of Obama.  There is a role for Gingrich in a Romney administration — I like the notion of White House chief of staff or some position where he would have day-to-day influence on President Romney to help keep him pointed the right direction — but there won’t be a Gingrich administration.  And rather than be Goldwater in 1964, sparking a movement in the party, I think that he would instead be Mondale in 1984.

  • David Foster

    Good post. If an entity already has a good vision, it can continue to do well with a non-visionary leader of the tweaker and improver type for a while. Apple will probably be fine with Tim Cook running the place for a while, even if he’s primarily an excellent tweaker–Steve Jobs already provided the vision. (Peter Drucker argued it was a positive good for leaders of different focus and psychological types to succeed one another, and asserted that the Catholic Church has followed this policy in the selection of bishops.)

    But the viability of non-visionary leaders doesn’t go on forever. Steve Ballmer of Microsoft is also a tweaker rather than a visionary (although much more obnoxious than Tim Cook appears to be) and he might have been OK for a while, but I think MS is now pretty much strategically lost, and needs a visionary. It ma be too late. 

  • Danny Lemieux

    Bravo, Book…so extremely well articulated! 

    RwR – Liberal Left Democrats (I repeat myself) said the same thing about Reagan! The election of “that dunce” would be a disaster for America, they said.

    My suspicion is that the Democrats will engage in fratricide once it sinks in that they are really in trouble, maybe even launching a 3rd party attempt.

    As far as Liberal Lefties are concerned, I don’t want any president that would gain their approval. It isn’t Lefty Democrats that will make the difference in this election. They already have their “vision”: we know it to be rather ugly and there is no overlap between the visions of the Liberal Democrats and conservatives…they are mutually exclusive.

    Instead, it is the large middle group of independent voters that will make this next election. They, I believe, are the ones most hungering for an uplifting vision. Like Book, I believe Newt is the only candidate that can articulate this.

  • suek

    Very good evaluation of the situation. But then there are not just Democrats, there are a fair number of Republicans who also don’t like Newt. How many? Will they vote or stay home if he’s nominated?

    In other words…it’s sort of a matter of who’s going to have the most stay-at-homers, come next November 4th. If RWR stays home because she doesn’t like Romney, but doesn’t like Obama even more, that’s to the good. But if she votes because she _really_ doesn’t like Newt – even more than she doesn’t like Obama – and if lots of Repubs stay home because they don’t like Obama, but they _really_ don’t like Newt… well… that’s not good.

    So maybe it comes down to these two – and which is going to be the leader, and which is going to be the supporter. Personally, I suspect Romney would get things _done_. If he would also get Newt as VP and send him out there to talk up the vision, we’d get the best we’re going to get. IMO.

  • Earl

    I think that’s quite an insightful post, BW….should pry you up out of the “also-ran’ position next time they judge these things (not that you care a whit for that stuff, right?….Hehe!)
    Anyhow, if we have a President who is going to “get things done”, then I want a guy with a vision for what “ought to be done”.  Telling me that Romney is going to “get things done” fills me with foreboding — because it’s likely that there will be enough Dems still in the Congress to block most genuinely conservative initiatives.
    If that’s true, President Romney is likely to cut deals in order to “get things done”, and we’ll still be headed for disaster, just a little more slowly.
    Reagan had a vision and moved the country in the direction of his vision.  GHW Bush cut deals to “get things done” and started down the path to giving away much of what Reagan had fought so hard for.
    I don’t know that Newt is the right guy for this time – he has so many question marks for me that I’m feeling extremely uncomfortable about the election right now.  But what Book says above is what I’m certain that I and many other conservative folks are feeling, although we can’t articulate it 1/2 as well as she has – we need someone with a vision and with the chops to articulate in ways that can move the country in his direction.  Only THAT will make me happy about a guy in the White House who can “get things done”……

  • Don Quixote

    Reading the article Suek linked to, I couldn’t help but think of Bookworm’s harsh attacks on Obama for his narcissism.  It seems that Newt is every bit as narcissistic.  And, from the tone of the article, more unstable and perhaps even dangerous.  Can we really do no better than a choice between two dangerous narcissists?

    By the way, the latest polls in California show Mitt trailing Obama by 10% and Newt trailing him by 20%.  Maybe RWR’s post helps to explain why.

  • Danny Lemieux

    DQ, Gingrich certainly holds a very high opinion of himself. That being said, I appreciate that he has been very up-front about admitting himself to be a flawed person who has made many mistakes. I don’t think a true narcissist would do that.

  • suek

    >>I don’t think a true narcissist would do that.>>

    Maybe. Unless not doing so is a very clever ploy. And I do think Newt is very clever… So…maybe.

    Must not over think this, I guess. That’s what gets us into trouble, and why sometimes the “simple” decision is the best decision. Over thinking can easily lead to indecision and resultant inaction.

  • Don Quixote

    Sure, Danny, but, under the circumstances he could hardly avoid it, narcissist or not.  I suppose I’m more concerned that he comes off as a complete fruit loop.  Admittedly, a conservative, articulate fruit loop who loves America and all that, but still a fruit loop, with more, ever-changing plans than Carter has little liver pills.

  • jj

    Or maybe California’s self-explanatory and the rest of the nation no longer cares what – or if – they think?

  • Danny Lemieux

    I allow that you have a point, DQ. Gingrich does throw out a lot of ideas and plans on the table…is it the product of a disorganized, undisciplined mind or is it the sign of someone who thinks out loud? Don’t know yet. 

    That being said, I thought that Gingrich did a masterful job of rallying conservatives and Congress during the Clinton era. Is he as good at executing as an executive? Don’t know…he says he did a great job founding and growing his small businesses during the past 10 years, but let’s wait and see what evolves during the rest of this primary campaign.

    Too bad we can’t combine Romney’s executive and business skills with Gingrich’s vision and articulation of issues, what it means to be an American, and the value of conservative policies. 

  • Earl

    @DQ and Danny:  Maybe a Newt/Mitt ticket would be what we’re looking for.
    I don’t want Mitt at the top – he doesn’t seem to know when to draw a line.  I suspect because he’s not got a strong sense of what principled conservatism is.
    I worry about Newt at the top — honestly would rather have Perry there, but I don’t think there’s much chance of that, saving some kind of “miracle”.


    The Obama fairy tale …. you can kiss a frog and make a prince, but when you kiss (up) to a self-proclaimed prince you only get a frog.
    Newt and Mitt both have warts and neither is a prince and we are not living in a fairy tale -we’re in a 12-round boxing match. I don’t like surprises, unless I am reading a who dunnit.  For me, it comes down to which one is going to least surprise me. When Mitt got rattled during his interview with Bret Baier, it was a surprise (well not a big one, just an uncomfortable one). The gloves are still in the locker room and when the media  and DNC come out swinging, which they will with a vengeance, I want someone who can take a punch and counter-punch. I’ll withhold judgement as we still have a few rounds to go before the big match in November.

    Old age and politics are not for sissies.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Old age and politics are not for sissies.

    Well, there is Obama, but then he’s just the sock puppet.


    Before I get too carried away with this n’ that. Bookworm your article was draw-dropping inspiration. Now back to the skeletons in the closet….
    This just in from the Romney camp:

    “I am proud to announce the support of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski,” said Mitt Romney. “I look forward to working with her to expand Alaska’s energy production, bring jobs back to the state, and help get our country on the right track again.”

    Romney just cut ties with the Tea Party with the announcement IMO.

  • suek

    >>he says he did a great job founding and growing his small businesses during the past 10 years>>
    Has anyone any idea what his “small business(es)” was (were)?  From what I heard, he was basically a lobbyist.  If his “small business” was one that represented himself, I call foul.  He and his wife did write a couple of books – maybe more than a couple – in that time period, but again, that’s authorship, not “business”.
    So…what “business” is he saying he founded and grew? 


    Found at Forbes the sources of Gingrich’s wealth — below is a partial list from WaPo:

    A non-profit political operation — American Solutions for Winning the Future. Before disintegrating, the Post reported it generated $52 million and sourced the cash to pay for Gingrich’s  private jet travel at $35,000 to $40,000 a trip and $200,000 to $300,000 a year in private limousine bills;
    A health-care think tank — The Center for Health Transformation (CTH) was paid for by annual dues from its corporate sponsors ranging from $20,000 to $200,000. Diabetes treatment company, NovoNordisk paid $1.2 million as a CTH founding charter member for Gingrich’s speeches related to diabetes care, according to the Post;
    A consulting business that famously collected $1.8 million from Freddie Mac — one of the most popular Republican party pinatas when it comes to the housing crisis blame game. One client Pharmaceuticals Research and Manufacturers of America paid Gingrich $150,000 between 2001 and 2012 when it dropped him after Gingrich recommended that it should build a web site; and
    A communications firm that handled his 50 to 80 speeches a year at $60,000 per speech, media appearances and books.


  • suek

    “…one of George H. W. Bush’s advisers suggested that he back off from spouting minutiae to the electorate and spend some time focusing on the big picture, So that he could better sell himself to Americans.”
    Hmmm.  Was Newt “one of H. W. Bush’s advisers”?  If not, it certainly sounds like he took the message to heart.
    What do you think?  While he no doubt had to file for licenses, probably incorporated, and various other legal for business requirements, it doesn’t sound to me like he ran “real” businesses.  It sounds to me like he ran campaign organizations promoting Newt.  How many employees did he have?  Lots more I feel like I don’t know.
    Makes me feel a bit like I do every time I hear Michelle Bachman talk about how she’s qualified for various things including the Presidency because she had four children and 23 foster children.  I’ve wondered about _her_ business as well.  Supposedly she and her husband built a successful business – but I have no idea what it is…or if it still flourishes.  Insufficient data makes me wonder if it’s just hot air…


    Let’s face it, none of them ran a mom and pop store. They’re all politicians and the first job they have is self aggrandizing. There’s always a lot of smoke and mirrors and chest beating and/or puffing. The best that we can do is track their “ink” trail. Did they sign or promote lousy legislation?
    The Bachmann’s run a Christian Counseling company. He has a PhD but is not a licensed psychologist in Minnesota. The foster kids (all girls) in the 1990’s were taken in three at a time. They all had eating disorders.

  • jj

    I think Newt also put a fair amount of energy into being a historian and writing books, too.  I think they’re the more important part of the resume, the “business” is just post-politic all career lobbying-by-a-different-name bull.

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  • VaRight

    I am anxious to see how Newt does under the spotlight. That will tell the tale.
    I wrote him off early, but have now decided to reconsider.
    Good post. He has some warts, that’s for sure. But he is the only one that is a clear contrast to Obama.
    And the prospect of Obama and Newt debating – I am salivating!

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