Following in Gingrich's footsteps

He has conquered Congress. What next? John Redwood writes in praise of the man who has been setting the American agenda
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The Independent Online
Newt is something different. He has survived many waves of attack from the Washington establishment, out to write him off as some kind of extremist or fringe politician. Now he has to deal with tabloid stories trying to drive wedges between him and the Christian conservatives. His book To Renew America (HarperCollins, pounds 18) is breezy, anecdotal, straightforward, an easy read. It tackles the big themes that the Speaker of the House thinks are vital to America's success. It reveals some of the tactical thinking behind the strategy that has already brought him a long way not just in domestic US politics but worldwide.

Newt Gingrich has already achieved the impossible twice. They said that with his middle-America values he could not win. He stood up to too many of the fashionable and politically correct nostrums for the taste of the insiders clustered around the Hill. They said he would ditch his legislative programme once faced with the realities of deal-making and cajoling his party to vote for the measures they had campaigned on. He put them all through in less than the promised 100 days. He is demonstrating that a determined Congress can set the pace and agenda, and can influence or mandate a reluctant presidency to its ways by using the power to pass laws. It was a breathtakingly simple idea that seems to be working.

These first two mountains that he climbed were not easy, but he did it. The book describes how and why in a homespun way. Third and fourth peaks now beckon, assuming that Gingrich is different and is more concerned about the issues than about the job he holds. If he stays as Speaker rather than running for the presidency, he has to show that American attitudes, aspirations and successes do follow in the wake of the legislative blitzkrieg he unleashed. He has to show that his ambition of balancing the budget can be achieved in the teeth of hostile and well-paid lobby groups that stride the Washington landscape.

He sets out to reassert American civilisation, to accelerate America's entry into the Third Information Age and to encourage more competitiveness for home business in the world market. He wants to replace a welfare society with an opportunity society and to decentralise government while cutting its costs.

The book is long on great principles and statements of intent. In a lesser man it would be fair to regret the lack of detail and the apparent tactical naivety. In a man who has already played and won twice, I say: "Happy climbing, the next two summits are even more exciting".

Whatever happens next, Newt Gingrich has changed world politics. He is one of the few politicians to understand the gap between the establishment and the citizen, between government and the governed. He is one of the first to have the courage to say what many are thinking. His reward so far has been an important Republican victory not long after the defeat of a Republican president who had broken his promise to keep taxes down. Restoring the Republicans' reputation for keeping their word and placing voters before congressmen was an essential prelude to this dramatic revival.

Let's hope he can go on from reviving the Republicans to reviving America.