I have four items for my write-up today on Newt Gingrich’s 1998 book, Lessons Learned the Hard Way.
1. Newt talks about how he and several House Republicans sought to block a measure to cut Medicare premiums, since Medicare needed those premiums to keep up with the rising cost of health care; otherwise, Medicare would go bankrupt. Newt states on page 51 that the attempt to freeze premiums “would give the President [Bill Clinton] the opportunity to sound the old class warfare theme of the Republicans’ plans to offer tax cuts to the rich while blocking premium cuts for the poor.”
I can appreciate the idea that people need to pay into a system to keep it solvent. My problem is that Republicans largely seem to have this sort of attitude when the people paying into the system in question are middle income. When it comes to upper income people, however, they sing a different tune, for they promote tax cuts. But I cannot speak in absolutes here, for there are times when Republicans support cutting taxes that hurt the poor and the middle class, such as the gasoline tax, or the tax on cigarettes and alcohol.
2. One error that Newt Gingrich thinks he and the House Republicans made was to underestimate Bill Clinton. I enjoyed what Newt said on pages 55-56:
“People feeling confident of their own strength often fail to take the proper measure of their opponents. That was certainly the case with us and the President. Had we done our homework about this man, especially about his career in Arkansas, we would never have been quite so confident of our ability to push him into signing our legislation into law. This was a man who had lost a congressional race, bounced back to become Arkansas attorney general, been elected the youngest governor in the country, failed to win reelection, then became governor again for four terms. Next he ran for President against an incumbent George Bush, who, coming off a very popular war, for a time had very high approval ratings. Though in the early summer of 1992 he was running third in the polls behind Bush and Ross Perot, he survived both the revelation that he had dodged the draft and what a member of his campaign team had unforgettably dubbed ‘bimbo eruptions’ and gone on to win the presidency. To underestimate such a politician is a serious error, and it is, I am afraid, an error we committed in 1995-96.”
3. Newt made an interesting point about Democrats in the House of Representatives who became Republicans. According to Newt, they’re usually shocked because, whereas the Democrats are cohesive and encourage a great deal of group-think within their own ranks, the Republicans are more independently-minded. Newt speculates that this is because many Republicans were entrepreneurs, who are quite independent. My impression is that the Republican Party in the House and Senate became more cohesive with time, for I’ve heard about Tom Delay’s tough party discipline, and how Republicans were pressured to vote for the prescription drug bill.
4. Newt talks about how the Washington establishment equates departure from conservatism as “growth”. This sort of attitude annoys me, too. But I see it on both sides. How many conservatives have presented liberalism as immature, youthful idealism that people will outgrow once they try to earn a living and have to pay taxes? Many conservatives quote Winston Churchill’s remark that, if you reach a certain age and are still a liberal, you must not have a brain.
But, in a sense, I can identify with both sides on this. I think that there is idealism and realism, maturity and immaturity, on both sides. Conservatives are realistic about how taxes and regulations are a burden on people, and also about the inefficiencies of government bureaucracies. But they are overly idealistic in that they expect for tax cuts to create an economic Garden of Eden. Liberals often (not always, but often) tend to turn a blind eye to government inefficiency, but they are more aware of the problems that lower and middle income people face, in terms of health care, the decline of the American dream, etc.