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Newt Gingrich Rides the Third Wave

Carefully Selected Quotations from Speaker Newt Gingrich:

"The greatest leaders in fighting for an integrated America in the 20th century were in the Democratic Party. The fact is it was the liberal wing of the Democratic Party that ended segregation. The fact is that it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who gave hope to a nation that was in despair and could have slid into dictatorship. And the fact is every Republican has much to learn from studying what the Democrats did right."

"I have seldom been more shaken than I was shortly after the election when I had breakfast with two members of the Black Caucus, and one of them said to me, 'Can you imagine what it's like to visit a first grade class and realize that every fourth or fifth young boy in that class may be dead or in jail within 15 years, and they're your constituents, and you're helpless to change it?'"

"If you can't afford to leave the public housing project, you're not free. If you don't know how to find a job and you don't know how to create a job, you're not free. If you can't find a place that'll educate you, you're not free. If you're afraid to walk to the store because you could get killed, you're not free."

"I would say to those Republicans who believe in total privatization, you can't believe in the Good Samaritan and explain that as long as business is making money, we can walk by a fellow American who's hurt and not do something."

"I believe if every one of us will reach out in that spirit and will pledge -- and I think frankly on a bipartisan basis -- I would say to the members of the black and Hispanic caucus, I hope we could arrange by late spring to genuinely share districts where you'll have a Republican who frankly may not know a thing about your district agree to come for a long weekend with you, and you'll agree to go for a long weekend with them, and we begin a dialogue and an openness that is totally different than people are used to seeing in politics in America, and I believe if we do that we can then create a dialogue that can lead to a balanced budget."

Speaker Newt Gingrich
remarks as new House Speaker
January 4, 1995

Typical Democratic Response:

"It almost seemed as if there was somebody else inside of Newt Gingrich crying out to be heard. That doesn't mean that that person is much different than the Newt Gingrich we see every day, but clearly it says that there's another dimension somewhere there ... that clearly is determined to have its say."
Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-Maryland
Outgoing Congressional Black Caucus Chairman
January 4, 1995
There's a war brewing in the Republican Party. Not between conservatives and moderates as has been discussed in the media. That's a minor skirmish. What I'm referring to is a mostly intramural affair among conservatives. We had an early warning when William Bennett and Jack Kemp announced their opposition to Proposition 187 in California. That proposition, which was approved by California voters in November, seeks to deny benefits to illegal aliens in the State. It was sponsored by Governor Pete Wilson and failed -- but still flailing -- Senatorial candidate Michael Huffington, and has been denounced as racist and discriminatory by many left leaning groups. For Bennett and Kemp to oppose 187 in the face of such widespread conservative support took some political guts and may have been political suicide.[1]

Perhaps the most pivotal battle in this war is now taking place in the mind of Newt Gingrich and among his coterie of followers and advisors. Gingrich masterminded the electoral sweep that culminated in the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives after 40 years of uninterrupted Democratic rule. His reputation is as a back-bencher and bomb-thrower is well deserved, but it is obvious that he is a lot more complex intellectually. I hadn't realized it, and until his ascendancy hadn't really cared, but the Newt Gingrich who pushes radical welfare reform with its orphanages, who uses tough-talking language about welfare cheats, and who calls the First Lady a bitch, is the same Newt Gingrich who, when he was first elected to the House of Representatives, publicly called for the establishment of Martin Luther King's birthday as a national holiday, surprising and disappointing many of his constituents.

Consider the quotations which appear at the beginning of this article. Are they the political posturings of someone who has the votes he needs but wants to appear magnanimous in victory? Or do they represent the honest views of someone who, while having strongly conservative opinions, really wants to do what is best for all Americans, even the minorities other conservatives love to bait and bash? And what do his views mean in the context of the landslide which established Republican control of the legislative branch last November and may engulf the Clinton presidency in 1996?

There is sufficient evidence of debate around Gingrich to indicate he is not simply posturing. Consider some of the events surrounding a meeting of the Republican Governor's Association in Williamsburg, Va., in late November. Following a presentation by Alvin Toffler, author of The Third Wave, Future Shock and other futurist books, and who is a long-time Gingrich friend and advisor, his wife and co-author Heidi Toffler joined him on stage for a Q&A session. David Rosenbaum of the New York Times described the scene as follows:

"One of the first questions came from Gov. Kirk Fordice of Mississippi. Somewhat scornfully, he said he thought the point of the election was not that voters longed for a complicated cybercultural world like the one the Tofflers envision but rather that they yearned for the calmer life of the 1950s.

"Mrs. Toffler became irritated. If you go back to the '50s, she snapped, you send women back to the kitchen and blacks to the back of the bus."

A more recent confrontation involving Mrs. Toffler at a conference sponsored by the Progress and Freedom Foundation, was described by Maureen Dowd of the Times:

"The Tofflers have said that they are uncomfortable with some of the beliefs of Mrs. Huffington, the author of 'The Fourth Instinct,' a treatise on volunteerism and spirituality, and the wife of Michael Huffington, the defeated Senate candidate from California who spent millions of his fortune on his campaign.[2]

"That became clear Tuesday when Mrs. Toffler - who has complained to the new reigning Republicans that they are too 'lily white' - said on a panel about Culture and Politics in Virtual America that she hoped that more women and members of minority groups would be elected to Congress.

"Mrs. Huffington warned her that this might be second-wave thinking, since in the new wave, women would not have to be in Washington to contribute to society - an interpretation of waves that clearly irritated Mrs. Toffler. "'The question is not are there enough women in Congress,' Mrs. Huffington lectured the older woman. 'The question is are there enough women around solving the country's problems.'"

These exchanges demonstrate that some of the Speaker's views, particularly as regards the "Third Wave", a term popularized by the Tofflers in their book of the same title, are not understood or shared by mainstream conservatives. Is the Third Wave a conservative concept? Is it serious? Is Gingrich serious? Consider this brief description of the Toffler thesis:

"The central event of the 20th century is the overthrow of matter. In technology, economics, and the politics of nations, wealth -- in the form of physical resources -- has been losing value and significance. The powers of mind are everywhere ascendant over the brute force of things.

"In a First Wave economy, land and farm labor are the main "factors of production." In a Second Wave economy, the land remains valuable while the "labor" becomes massified around machines and larger industries. In a Third Wave economy, the central resource -- a single word broadly encompassing data, information, images, symbols, culture, ideology, and values -- is actionable knowledge.

"The industrial age is not fully over. In fact, classic Second Wave sectors (oil, steel, auto-production) have learned how to benefit from Third Wave technological breakthroughs -- just as the First Wave's agricultural productivity benefited exponentially from the Second Wave's farm-mechanization."

The Tofflers state the onset of the Third Wave is inevitable, that our leaders are only presiding over the transition. That tension between the Second and Third Waves is inevitable, just as they believe tension between the agricultural economy embodied in the first wave and the new industrialization of the second wave was largely responsible for the Civil War, even making slavery economically obsolete. Furthermore, the Tofflers, and their star pupil Newt Gingrich, believe the government and many aspects of society will have to change to accommodate the Third Wave. Many of these things coincide with conservative notions of smaller government, individual freedom and responsibility, etc. But not all of it does. To some extent, leaders like Governor Fordice are entrenched "Second Wave" thinkers, wanting to return to the 50's, causing Heidi Toffler's visceral and highly negative reaction.

Commenting on the Toffler - Fordice discussion, Rosenbaum wrote:

"This brief exchange reflects two schools of the conservative Republican ideology that by virtue of the election has moved to the forefront of American politics.

"One school, apparently represented by Fordice, holds that if the intrusive government that grew out of the Great Society is dismantled, the safe streets, strong families and prosperous communities of yesteryear can be restored. "In this vein, Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, who will be the Republican majority leader in the next Congress, told an interviewer recently that school prayer 'was there when life was better, and maybe if we could restore these things, life will be better again.'

"The other school, whose champion is Newt Gingrich, the next speaker of the House and a disciple of the Tofflers, advocates revolution, not counterrevolution. The Georgian and his allies do not want things the way they were, but the way they supposedly could be in an efficient, high-tech society."

What does all this mean? It means Gingrich is a more serious intellectual than most of his Congressional counterparts. The success of his plan indicates he is serious of purpose as well, and no one should take him lightly. And it suggests, to me, that it is essential to gain a critical understanding of the ideas he is espousing before opposing them in knee-jerk fashion. We can always do that later on! And, in any event, if the tide turns inevitably as the Tofflers suggest, we wouldn't want to be Second Wave thinkers ourselves, would we?

Conservatives don't represent a single, monolithic viewpoint so much as a united front. Judging by the stunning election results across America, that united front looks a lot like a tidal wave, of course. And there are clearly some aspects of the movement which seem to attack interests historically supported by blacks and other minorities as proxies for an attack on those groups directly. The fact that whites, men in particular, deserted the Democratic party in large numbers while all other demographic groups didn't budge implies the racial card has been effectively played.

Nevertheless, judging by his speech to the House, a battle is raging in and around Newt Gingrich, and we should all pay careful attention.


[1] As with immigration and Proposition 1987, affirmative action is likely to be the next conservative "wedge" issue in California when a new proposition to outlaw the practice appears on the ballot in March 1996. According to the San Jose Mercury News in an article entitled, "Affirmative action programs could end up on chopping block," by Laura Kurtzman:

"Californians have set national trends to cut taxes, punish illegal immigrants and impose harsh new penalties on repeat criminals. Now, abolishing affirmative action is bidding for the next spot on that list.

"In what could become a pivotal issue in the 1996 presidential campaign, a loose coalition of conservative scholars and Republican political leaders is trying to outlaw preferential treatment for minorities and women in public employment, hiring and contracting.

"Their proposals are a direct assault on the diversity imperatives that have guided public policy in California for more than two decades, as schools, colleges, universities and public agencies have struggled to better reflect the state's ethnic makeup.

"The measures, including a ballot initiative and several legislative bills, have won admiration from prominent Republicans, including Gov. Pete Wilson, who has said he is 'sympathetic' to the initiative's 'purpose and direction.' Though he has a long history of supporting affirmative action programs, Wilson now says he is no longer sure they are necessary.

"'I don't think we should be awarding either jobs or places in a graduate school class based upon race or gender because if you do, essentially you're talking about a quota system, and I don't think that what we want are quotas,' the governor recently told the Sacramento Bee."

[2] The Tofflers apparently put a little distance between themselves and Gingrich as well. According to Maureen Dowd, "Although the Tofflers concede that some of Gingrich's conservative positions - on abortion and school prayer, for instance - are far from their more liberal political taste, they hail their friend as 'a third-wave leader.'"

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Meanderings 2.01 -- January 1995