Posted: July 14, 2014
A review of Window of Opportunity: A Blueprint for the Future, by Newt Gingrich and The American Idea: Ending Limits to Growth, by Jack Kemp
onald Reagan had not even been nominated before the campaign for the Republican nomination in 1988 began. Who would be the President's successor? By late August before the campaign had really begun in earnest, place-hunters in Washington were already speculating on every shift of personnel or policy, however trivial: Did it betray a presidential leaning toward George Bush and "the pragmatists"? Would it work to the advantage of Jack Kemp and "the "supply-siders"? The campaign itself did little to resolve this infra-party tension. For example, at a celebration on election day, I saw high-spirited young Republicans repeatedly turn the Vice President's picture to the wall, because it kept being turned back by "moderates." To this day, the division among Republicans inspires interest, so that no insider's report from Washington is complete without a story or two of the cunning, bungle, bluff, and maneuver of the 1988 race.
It should go without saying that no one can know who will run in 1988, but one can appreciate the importance of the question for Republicans. On the one hand, the Democrats, having staked their all in the 1984 race, are not only in disarray, but also practically headless. Of their two leading men, Senators Kennedy and Hart, one was whipped by Jimmy Carter and the other by Walter Mondale. On the other hand, Republican hegemony over the national government was not secured in 1984, in part because the party's command over itself was uncertain. So, because the prospects for the Republicans are good, their divisions are critical: As Lincoln said in 1858, "Their only hope is that we won't pull together." The situation is not nearly so grave for the Republicans as 1973, when Elliot Richardson and his compatriots were still powerful and when both the Republican President and his Vice President had been opponents of the "moderate," i.e., Northeastern, wing of the party. Still, as has been the case for at least the past five years, the most interesting political contentions are likely to continue to be between Republicans, not between Republicans and Democrats, and certainly not between Democrats.
Although the division among Republicans is generally described as one between "moderates" and "conservatives," also called "pragmatists" and "ideologues," this description does not accurately convey a full sense of the differences. With what right do we call Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, the strident running mate of Gerald Ford, a moderate and House Republican Whip Trent Lott, the survivor of the trench warfare of the Watergate scandals, an ideologue! Perhaps it makes sense to call Minnesota Representative Vin Weber a conservative; during the 1984 campaign, he said that Ronald Reagan should promise to cut taxes further and not even talk about the circumstances under which he would raise them. If that does indeed make sense, then is Senator Goldwater, who appears on the nightly news only to advocate raising taxes and cutting defense, a moderate pragmatist? Plainly, something is happening within the Republican Party-and, therefore, in the nation-that defies these easy categories.
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The books of Congressmen Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich help to explain what is happening. Although they are very different from one another, both are intellectually serious writings-as distinguished from campaign biographies, political tracts, or programmatic proposals. In this respect, they differ from the writings of all other nationally prominent politicians, including those of Senator Hart and Senator Bradley. Both, but especially Kemp's carefully edited (by Marc Lipsitz) collection of speeches, remind one more of the important pre-New Deal political books like Roosevelt's New Nationalism or Wilson's New Freedom (not to mention Coolidge's Price of Freedom) than of anything written recently. They do so precisely because Kemp and Gingrich make serious pretensions to being intellectuals. Since Franklin Roosevelt's administration, and all the more since John Kennedy's, politicians have preferred to have members of the intellectual class do their intellectual work for them rather than become or appear to become intellectuals themselves. This is not to say that politicians since the New Deal were the intellectual inferiors of their apologists in the intellectual class; clearly, Franklin Roosevelt was as superior to Rex Tugwell or Raymond Moley, as Sam Rayburn was to Adolf Berle, as Kennedy was to Neustadt or Schlesinger, as Johnson was to Galbraith, or as Carter was to Rawls. Nor is it even to say that recent presidents have lacked aptitude or taste for a life of the mind. On the contrary, we note with pleasure that Presidents Truman and Nixon studied-books!-while in office, and that President Eisenhower, finding his Greek in disrepair, returned to the translation of Thucydides after he left office. However, the intellectual bent of Kemp and Gingrich is public.
Although Republicans have had a majority in the Senate for four years, the party's intellectual leadership comes out of the House of Representatives, because so far the Senate's leadership has proven not to have the stomach for rule. For example, Senate Majority Leader Baker retired to private life, complaining that his colleagues were "elected bureaucrats" and that his position was "janitorial." Here was a man who could have used his position to advance any cause he chose, daily and on national television. And what was his cause? Getting the Senate debates televised!
In contradistinction, Kemp and Gingrich agree with Ronald Reagan: To rule this country, "we first [have] to win the battle of ideas" (American Idea, p. xiii). As a measure of how seriously they take these words: No national Republican has presented a view of American politics, a view at once comprehensive of details and founded upon principle, which can rival that of the best speeches in The American Idea, nor has any exhibited the keen taste for ideological warfare ofWindow of Opportunity, Kemp and Gingrich understand that, in countries like ours, public opinion is everything.
For the past twenty years, appeals to private interest, supplemented by appeals to compassion for the least fortunate and the stigmatized, have been the dominant means of molding public opinion, the means preferred by the Democrats and accepted by the moderate/pragmatic wing of the Republican party. In 1984, Walter Mondale reduced this kind of politics to absurdity. Toward the end of his campaign, obviously reaching in desperation for still another interest group for whom citizens could feel compassion, he claimed that his coalition included not only the poor, the black, the elderly, the handicapped, and so on, but also "the sad"-as distinguished, presumably, from "the gays."
The politics of private interest and public compassion is theoretically as well as practically self-destructive, because it has no public principle limiting it: In this view all self-interests are equally worthy of being fostered by government, but also every putative "minority," no matter how justly or unjustly despised, is equally worthy of compassion; i.e., of governmental preference over other interests. Thus, in the terms of this ludicrous rhetoric, Walter Mondale's claim against President Reagan was valid: The President did appeal to the selfishness of Americans. Mondale's mistake was in supposing that, because it was compassionate, his own appeal could neither be selfish nor appear to the voters to be so. He did not see that a generation of voters who have cut their political teeth on interest-group liberalism are quite sophisticated about compassion, for, in the same ludicrous terms, Messrs. Reagan, Kemp, and Gingrich have succeeded by making the American people feel compassion for themselves-as workers, taxpayers, and parents. That is why Jack Kemp delights in calling himself a "bleeding-heart conservative."
For Kemp and Gingrich, this beating of the liberal Democrats at their own game is only one victory in the war for the public mind. Ultimately, they intend to replace the false dichotomy of private interestedness and public compassion, which has tortured the public mind for so long, with a positive principle of self-government. Kemp calls the society produced by the operation of this principle "the American opportunity society." Gingrich calls it "the conservative opportunity society." Both societies are to be distinguished from the welfare state by the fact that they would produce human welfare freely or by means of economic growth, rather than by bureaucratic redistribution of existing wealth and income. In distinguishing the opportunity society from the redistributionist state, Kemp is especially concerned to show that economic growth is superior to welfare programs for the elimination of poverty. Accordingly, he emphasizes the beneficent effects upon the lowliest of reducing marginal tax rates and of continued deregulation of commercial enterprise (above all, of the financial industries by returning to the gold standard); Kemp would go so far as to create select havens from taxation and regulation ("Urban Enterprise Zones") for the benefit of the poor. Gingrich emphasizes more the material, moral, political, and intellectual amelioration of the lives of non-poor Americans which could result from economic growth. He looks forward to a vast transformation of the American economy, and indeed of the whole of American society, as a consequence of governmental policies for unleashing and fostering technological progress. Despite these differences of emphasis, the basic supposition is the same: A better society will result from the free choices of the American people than from bureaucratic regulation.
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Gingrich's proposals appear to be far more radical than Kemp's. Above all, he urges that government accelerate "the transition to a high-technology, information-based society." This society would be superior in every way to the present one, and in no way inferior. Of course, it would be wealthier, healthier, and more secure. These are the expected, material results, the ones typically promised by technological progress. Such a society, Gingrich argues in addition, would be morally and politically superior because the new political economy would permit, perhaps even require, more economic independence for the individual citizen, which, he asserts, would in turn breed moral self-restraint and intellectual independence in the citizenry. Such a civic body would not tolerate today's highly centralized bureaucracy and would not need today's welfare state.
This unbridled optimism becomes tiresome sometimes: "A generation from now, every local country club and neighborhood recreation center should have an idea center as well as a tennis center" (p. 175), nevertheless, we should recognize in it the spirit of Jefferson, who firmly believed that technological progress, especially on behalf of the common man or yeoman farmer, would be political progress. One does not have to undertake a critique of Heidegger to see the good sense in Jefferson's enthusiasm for modern technology. The enemies of oligarchy and its contemporary moral-political equivalent, bureaucracy, are more likely to be found among the new centers of wealth and the rising men than among the well-established interests who profit from the existing order. Although Gingrich, like George Gilder, might be mistaken in supposing that the independent spirit of high-tech entrepreneurs is due to their moral, religious, and intellectual enlightenment, rather than to the fact that they have almost invariably risen despite the bureaucracy, he is correct in supposing that that spirit is the heart of liberal democracy.
No one on the national political scene and no intellectual is superior to Congressman Gingrich at exposing the economic dependency, despair, and servility cultivated by the current welfare state (pp. 84-115). Gingrich interprets that demoralization not as an accident, but as the intended result of bureaucratic redistribution, whose advocates' power requires ever-increasing dependency upon the federal government. Accordingly, he sees today's struggles over what I hesitate to call "the budget" as the throbbing of the nation's political heart:
The Reagan Administration [the Congressman writes] has been afraid to balance the budget because it has been afraid to break the back of the Washington establishment. We will never be able to balance the budget-or even significantly shrink the deficit-unless we either give in to the Liberals by raising taxes or break the power of the Liberals. (p. 189)
Here we see that the real difference between the moderate pragmatists and the conservative ideologues has little to do with being pragmatic or conservative. As Faith Whittlesey has observed recently, "The more pragmatic one becomes, the more one moves to the right," for the only way to extirpate the root of the current evils is to "break the back" of Liberal Washington.
Perhaps the current evils are tolerable, and perhaps a considerable amelioration of social, political, and economic life is possible short of overthrowing the welfare state. This is Jack Kemp's view, insofar as it is distinguishable from Newt Gingrich's. Accordingly, Kemp is far less sanguine about the promise of technology, and far more tolerant of the welfare state and, in general, of Big Government.
The most famous instance of this was his "supply-side" tax-rate cut, which Kemp proposed as a way to save the welfare state. By operating on the supply side, Kemp hoped to be able to reduce welfare dependency and other forms of dependency, but he also hoped to increase federal revenues to the levels required by entitlement programs. In 1981, Kemp refused to go along with those who demanded that domestic spending be cut before tax rates. "It makes no sense to me," he said, reasoning that the question of which tax rates maximize governmental revenues is different from the issue of federal spending. Kemp also noted, "It is futile" to propose such cuts but did not bother to explain why.
Compared with Gingrich's, Kemp's hopes for the opportunity society seem sober enough: "I believe an expanded private economy will reduce the need for excessive government spending, and the rate of growth in such spending will fall of its own accord" (p. 16).
In other words, excessive government spending would continue under the supply-side policy, but not so excessively. However, whether or not we suppose that supply-side economics has been tried yet-marginal tax rates have been lowered and indexed to inflation, but the total tax burden on employment has not been eased since 1981-it is clear that governmental spending exceeds excess, having no respect for such old-fashioned limits as revenues, the needs of the federal government, the size of the deficit, or the health of the economy. Or, as the brilliant economist Paul Craig Roberts has observed at book-length and with much chagrin, these days federal fiscal and monetary policies have very little to do with economics and public finance, and very much to do with "politics," in the narrowest, most partisan, and personal sense of the word. Kemp's expectations from the supply-side, modest as they might appear to be, have proven to be wildly Utopian in the present political circumstances.
Even while the circumstances of Ronald Reagan's first term were proving Jack Kemp not to be so good a political economist as Newt Gingrich, he became the most thoughtful apologist for free government on the American political scene. Truly, the President-not Irving Kristol, Leo Strauss, Paul Craig Roberts, or Art Laffer-is Congressman Kemp's mentor in this respect. To put it in his own words: ". . . . this is what I admire so much about President Reagan. He has urged us to take our democratic heritage seriously-not as a pretext or rhetorical gloss for acts of naked self-interest, but because it is a true heritage, for ourselves and for the rest of the world" (p. 335).
Thus, increasingly in his later speeches, like "The American Opportunity Society," "Free Enterprise: An Industrial Policy That Works," and "America's Religious Heritage," the Congressman strives to articulate the relation of the narrowest questions of economic or foreign policy to what he regards as the fundamental principle of our freedom: "All men are created equal." Indeed, most of these later speeches are practical meditations upon that abstract moral principle. So today the doctrine of the Declaration of Independence seems to occupy that center point of the Congressman's thoughts, where once the doctrine of the supply-side and honest money prevailed.
Still, he has not abandoned his earlier, almost wholly economic concerns, so much as he has broadened them into political and moral concerns. "I find it hard to think of a political issue that does not involve the choice between right and wrong in some way," he writes. Accordingly, ". . . economic growth must come first, not because it is inherently more important than other personal or social goals, but because without growth, our progress as a nation toward one goal can be achieved only by impoverishing something or someone else" (p. 298).
Not greed, not political ambition, and not compassion, but the desire to avoid doing an injustice thus appears as the basis of Mr. Kemp's supply-side economics. Reading such clear and forceful statements, one can see why. Newt Gingrich regards Jack Kemp as the intellectual founder of tomorrow's Republicanism. (See Window, p. 269.)
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From a strictly intellectual point of view, the movement of Kemp's concerns from political economy to political morality over the past few years is a broadening and a heightening. That is, Kemp has become, if anything, even more cerebral than he was in the 1970s. At the same time, he is much less the ideologue, much more practical. After all, his supply-side doctrine was well-calculated to appeal to the traditionally Democratic, industrial union members who make up a large part of his constituency in Buffalo. Perhaps not in Buffalo, but nationally, there is a group of citizens-at least equal in size and political organization, and far more solidly Republican than industrial unions-for whom moral and religious issues are decisive. Kemp's moral appeal is a well-calculated and perfectly principled attempt to win the hearts of these voters, while preserving his strength with industrial workers. No wonder presidential candidate Kemp observes a careful silence about the social, moral, and fiscal problems of the welfare state, about which Representative Gingrich writes so eloquently! If his design succeeds, he could win even greater victories for the Republican Party than Ronald Reagan.