In my latest reading of Newt Gingrich’s 1998 book, Lessons Learned the Hard Way, Newt talks about juicy things, such as the time that he had to exit from the back of Air Force One during the Clinton years, and Connie Chung. But I won’t talk about those things in this post. You can buy the book for that! Rather, I’d like to use as my starting-point something that Newt says on page 40:
“[People] need something else as well, especially from us [conservative politicians]. They need to believe that we understand how people feel. This is sometimes an uncomfortable thing for Republicans to make convincing. Often we tend to talk as if we are a group of managers analyzing some problem in a boardroom. Democrats, on the other hand, whatever their shortcomings, have a passion for both power and people and instinctively know how to focus in on both. You might say that they on the whole come on like a party of lawyers making an appeal to a blue-collar jury, while Republicans come on like a party of managers making an appeal to a board of directors. Guess who is more successful at mass communication?”
What Newt thinks that conservative politicians should do is to bring in living, breathing people to testify about the impact of policies on their own lives. As examples, Newt refers to the time that House Republicans invited a sick girl to testify that life-saving medicine was being endangered by trial lawyers, and the time when they invited a welfare mother from Cleveland who was happy that her child could attend a good school due to Governor George Voinovich’s school choice program.
I agree with Newt that, overall, Democrats are better than Republicans at putting a human face on policy discussions. Years ago, I had a discussion with Michael Westmoreland-White about how the Democrats were doing this in the debate over S-CHIP (see here).
I think that we should look at the big picture, but also that we should remember how policies impact real people. Newt talks about this issue when he says that relatives outside of Washington convinced him to oppose a gasoline tax that President George H.W. Bush was proposing, for the tax would have a deleterious impact on people, such as retirees who liked to drive.