[Jason Cherkis contributed reporting to this piece.]
If all goes according to plan, in just a few hours, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich will end a decade-and-a-half of testing the waters and finally announce his candidacy for President of the United States. This seemed all but assured last week, when Gingrich campaign spokesman Rick Tyler told reporters, "by the time Newt speaks to the Georgia convention," which is scheduled for Friday, May 13, "he'll be a candidate." As always, it's worth taking a wait-see-position, since so many of us have been burned before by Gingrich. At various points in the past, a couple of folks have been burned by both Newt Gingrich and the women who served as his mistresses These Americans are, obviously, the luckiest of all.
If Gingrich gets into the race, rest assured that it will only be a matter of hours before his allied political touts begin referring to him as the GOP's Man of Great Ideas. (Gregory Schmidt, in this column, may have jumped the gun, but many will follow.) Whether or not Gingrich has managed to remain an "ideas guy" in his post-Congressional career has always been a matter of subject of intense debate. Sometimes, Gingrich's "ideas" are warmed-over policy proposals from his Speakership heyday. Sometimes, his "ideas" are things that other people have already proposed. On rare occasions, his "ideas" involve laser beams. Regardless, Gingrich's reputation as some sort of walking reliquary of policy innovations precedes him.
But if there's been anything that's helped protect and preserve that reputation, it's been Gingrich's ability to remain a ubiquitous presence in the conservative movement. In Washington, activity is often confused for achievement, and the savvy Gingrich has found a maddeningly eclectic way of producing tons of busy work over the last 15 years.
He's never far from cable news or the bookshelves (where he's always seen wearing the same tie). He's a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution. He's produced an astounding array of video projects. It's almost impossible to imagine the annual CPAC conference happening without him.
And when it's suited him, he's found ways to be politically ecumenical: recall the commercial he cut with Nancy Pelosi on behalf of Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, or, more recently, his team-up with Al Sharpton and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to support President Barack Obama's school reform initiatives (which Gingrich has somehow reconciled with his overall view that Obama is a dangerous "secular-socialist.")
All in all his organizational entanglements are extensive and byzantine. It's obviously a lot to absorb, but if you're in the mood to dive in, check out Jason Cherkis' piece on the matter, where he reports that Gingrich's generosity to his political organizations far outpaces his treatment of his charities.
If you're looking for a way to get the bottom of what a Newt Gingrich presidency might look like, your best route is to head on over to the home of Renewing American Leadership, which Gingrich helped found in 2009. If you want to fully experience Gingrich's brand of conservative politics, Renewing American Leadership is your source for the pure and uncut stuff.
The organization -- whose mission is to "preserve America's Judeo-Christian heritage by defending and promoting the four pillars of American civilization: faith, family, freedom, and free enterprise" -- takes square aim at secularism, dressing up its cant in quasi-academic garb. There's American history presented in a way that Sean Hannity might love -- American Exceptionalism consecrated on the same altar as the Trinity. The organizations' work is tailor made for the modern Christian conservative, but this isn't the angry religiosity of a Rick Santorum. In the world of Renewing American Leadership, God is seen as a divine brand manager, with America as his purest product.
The organization is currently headed by Dr. Jim Garlow, the senior pastor of San Diego's Skyline Wesleyan Church. Garlow is the author of numerous books, a body of work that's allowed him to keep one foot in heaven (2009's Heaven and the Afterlife: What Happens When You Die?) and another on earth (The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership Tested by Time). (He's also written "exposes" on The DaVinci Code and The Secret, which seem like pretty worthy endeavors to me.) Garlow is joined in these endeavors by Wallbuilder's David Barton, whose teachings are so valuable, according to Mike Huckabee, that people should be "forced to listen" to them at "gunpoint."
Gingrich occupies a special place in Renewing American Leadership's firmament. As the honorary chairman, Gingrich's face is the one that appears in the organization's welcome video. The site maintains a stuffed gallery of Gingrich's video projects and television appearances. They also track his every move: Here's Gingrich at CPAC's past and present. Here's Gingrich at the Value Voters Summit. Here he is speaking at Liberty University and his address to the RGA. You'll find Gingrich sounding off on matters both memorable -- the Cordoba House, Elena Kagan's nomination -- and obscure, like the Mojave Memorial Cross.
The organization also features the prominent involvement of the aforementioned Rick Tyler, who serves as the chairman of ReAL Action, Renewing American Leadership's "citizen activist arm." Under Tyler, ReAl Action has published regular "ReAL News And Views" newsletters, and it's in these periodic missives that you find the purest distillation of Gingrichiana.
The Tyler newsletters fairly comprehensively establish the foundations of Gingrich's politics and policies. The chief tenets involve worshipful nationalism, a love of free markets and small government and a wholesale rejection of secular humanism. How wholesale? Well, consider the organization's take on the concept of "American Exceptionalism." In the November 23, 2010 newsletter, Tyler maintained that it exists "not because of our DNA - America is home to peoples from all across the earth - but because Americans began with the correct ordering of man's relationship to God."
Either our rights come from man, which was the dominant model throughout history, or they come from God. One answer leads to freedom and prosperity and one leads to tyranny and poverty. The Founders answered "the grand sez who?" question unequivocally, with "God says."
A society that does not recognize that rights come from God inevitably morphs into a society that believes rights come from the state -- and it happens fast. In old Europe, the state could torture a man until he admitted he was guilty of a crime, then he could be punished for his admission. By contrast, our Fifth Amendment bars the state from compelling us to incriminate ourselves. In practical terms, ours was the first government in the history of the world that saw the evil of putting a screw into a man's thumb until he told the authorities what they wanted to hear. Camus wrote in The Plague, "But again and again there comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death."
When the government believes that a man has rights that come from God, it cannot simply torture or arbitrarily kill its citizens. That may seem like an extreme example, but you can also see the damage of this type of thinking in the genocide perpetrated by secular-socialist regimes such as the Soviet Union, or even in the 40 million aborted babies lost since Roe v. Wade. When governments forget that the basic rights of the citizenry come from God, horrible violations of basic human rights will invariably follow.
Obviously, there's no quarter given here: If human rights have a source, it's either Yahweh or the highway. (Gingrich has, in the past, condemned the use of torture, but his position is awkward, given his prior unwillingness to state whether he felt waterboarding qualified.)
The November 30 newsletter outlines how to "Renew Economic Leadership" in America. There, the organization advocates eliminating the capital gains tax, lowering the corporate tax rate, eliminating regulation and oversight, repealing Obamacare, and digging every natural resource out of the ground as quickly as possible. I's wager that it's the essential preview of Gingrich on the stump in 2012.
I especially enjoy the February 9, 2011 newsletter, which grapples with events abroad in a piece titled "What Egypt Tells Us About America," by answering the important question: "Why Don't We Have Unrest Like This?":
We have said this before: America is not unique because of our military might, baseball, mom, or apple pie. We as Americans are not blessed simply because we were born in the United States. America is exceptional because she is the first country in human history founded with a genuine free market economy that isn't dominated by cronyism and a ruling class. We are also the first nation to clearly establish that our rights come from our Creator and not from the State, and not from some government-established cleric who tells us what God requires that we support the state.
Emphasis mine, because wow. It's like things like lobbying and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision just don't exist. Like the special dispensation that Wall Street received in the wake of their 2008 cock-up collapse of the economy, and which they continue to receive to this day, just didn't happen.
In short, there's a lot to be divined about what Gingrich's presidential platform will potentially be. But that shouldn't detract from the ways in which this Gingrich group has exercised its will on the political landscape. It was through Renewing American Leadership that Gingrich funneled $150,000 to "help defeat Iowa justices who threw out a ban on same-sex marriage." And if after reading about the organization you're left with the funny feeling that they have a particular fellowship in common with the right-wing activists who were bent on revising Texas' school textbooks, give yourself a gold star: David Barton "served on the Texas State Board of Education's "panel of experts" that edited history textbooks to be more friendly to Republican perspectives."
The bottom line is that while there's always a reason to be uncertain about Newt Gingrich's presidential ambitions, how those ambitions would manifest themselves as a govering philosophy couldn't be more clear.
ALSO on the HUFFINGTON POST:
Newt Gingrich's Charities Wither While His Political Organizations Thrive