Idea Man: A Look Back At Newt Gingrich's To Renew America

May 12, 2011 3:18 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has long enjoyed a reputation as an "idea man," though proclamations of Gingrich's status as a "one-man think tank" tend to be curiously short of examples of good Gingrich ideas. In recent years, his best ideas — like the need for action to counter global climate change — haven't been his, and have been quickly abandoned. 

But perhaps a look further back is in order; after all, Gingrich, a noted science fiction fan, has cultivated an image as something of a futurist. In 1995, early in his Speakership, Gingrich published To Renew America to tepid sales. (Gingrich initially agreed to write the book as part of a $4.5 million deal with a publishing house owned by Rupert Murdoch, but eventually gave up the advance after intense criticism of the arrangement.) In To Renew America, Gingrich prophesied an America, circa 2005, in which traffic, lawyers, and high health care costs were a thing of the past:  

Imagine a morning in just a decade or so. [...] since most Americans now telecommute, rush hour is dramatically smaller than it used to be. Telecommuting has proved to be the best means of dealing with air pollution. When you are sick, you sit in your diagnostic chair and communicate with the local health clinic. Sensors take your blood pressure, analyze a blood sample, or do throat cultures. [...] The only time you visit a doctor or hospital is when something is seriously wrong. [...] Because information is now so widely available, the guildlike hold of the medical profession has been broken. Health care has become more flexible and convenient — and less expensive. Your legal problems will work the same way. [...] Once again, the "legal guild" [...] has been broken. People now bring their own lawsuits, file their own briefs, even represent themselves electronically in court. [pp 55-56]

Despite Gingrich's predictions, traffic congestion hasn't gone away, health care costs have soared, and few homes come equipped with "diagnostic chairs" that take throat cultures.

Gingrich also touted Japan's "commitment to steady economic growth" as a model for America:

High economic growth is a simple result of following the right policies, just as good health comes from good nutrition and exercise. [...] In Japan, where the government had a commitment to steady economic growth, there was a nineteen-year period without a recession. From 1975 to 1994 the Japanese averaged 4.2 percent annual growth and a 3.6 percent annual personal income increase. [pp 67-68]

Gingrich chose a poor time to point to Japan as an economic role model: Japan was then in the midst of what has come to be known as its "lost decade," during which the country's economic struggles were exacerbated by a focus on deficit reduction at the expense of stimulus. Gingrich, it should be noted, obsessed about deficit reduction throughout To Renew America and has opposed efforts to stimulate the U.S. economy during the current period of high unemployment.

Newt Gingrich being Newt Gingrich, To Renew America was not merely filled with bad ideas and predictions — it featured some truly off-the-wall ideas as well, including these gems:

Why not aspire to build a real Jurassic Park? (It may not be at all impossible, you know.) [p 190]

I believe that ... honeymoons in space will be the vogue by 2020. Imagine weightlessness and its effects and you will understand some of the attraction. [p 192]

And that's the kind of thing upon which Newt Gingrich has built a reputation as an "idea man" — yearning for space sex and dreaming of a real-life Jurassic Park.

Finally, Gingrich's fellow Republicans may be interested to know that To Renew America contains only four passing mentions of former President Ronald Reagan, none of which proclaim his greatness. Instead, Gingrich declared Franklin Roosevelt "probably the greatest President of the twentieth century." [p 36] At least he wasn't wrong about everything.