January 23, 1997

January 23, 1997 | Commentary on Political Thought

ED012397b: Defending Gingrich

Where have all the great leaders gone?

That's a question I've heard many times. My answer is: It's not that America no longer produces great men and women. It's that our political and media establishments no longer revere the qualities that make for greatness. They even turn on greatness when it threatens their complacency.

I would submit to you that no one poses a greater threat to the complacency of the Washington establishment than Newt Gingrich, narrowly re-elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, and leader of a noble campaign to get Washington off the backs of American families and workers.

Ever since young Congressman Gingrich had the temerity to challenge then-House Speaker Tip O'Neil in the 1980s, the Washington establishment has had it in for Gingrich. It comes as no surprise that the business-as-usual crowd eventually drew blood.

It's not just that Gingrich favors balancing Washington's checkbook, lessening the burden of taxes on American families, giving authority and autonomy back to states and localities, and giving all Americans greater economic independence by reforming welfare, Medicare and Social Security (three of Washington's biggest power-grabbing programs).

It's that he has forced President Clinton to sign on to all of these objectives, albeit in different forms, which cut at the heart of big government.

Say what you want about Gingrich. But he believes his ideas passionately, pursues them relentlessly, and is willing to take a beating for it. When all the smoke clears, he frequently comes out on top. By contrast, Americans still are trying to figure out what the occupants of the White House believe.

To the Washington establishment, Gingrich is clearly the devil. His 104th Congress eliminated 270 federal programs, agencies, offices and projects. It enacted farm and telecommunications reform, changing antiquated laws dating back to the Depression. The 104th Congress also reduced discretionary domestic spending by $53 billion.

His revolution is rolling. It wasn't repudiated by the voters in 1996 as liberals believed it would be. The 105th Congress is on the brink of truly ending the era of big government and re-instituting the era of citizen-directed self-government. Bill Clinton was re-elected because he sang Gingrichisms like a canary: lower taxes, balanced budgets, family values.

How did Gingrich pull off this victory? By being the lightning rod and taking the heat. Like any great leader, he recognized that since his cause was just, the only thing his opponents could attack was himself. Accepting this, he didn't buckle, and while his enemies attacked, the victory was being won. And more victories lie ahead.

Heck, Newt Gingrich even admits and apologizes for his mistakes! By contrast, can you imagine hearing an admission of guilt or an apology -- about far worse "ethical lapses" than anything even dreamed of by Gingrich -- from other key players in Washington?

"We are at the end of a 60-year cycle of liberalism," he said recently before The Heritage Foundation President's Club. "We had to have at the national level a great debate about where we were going. And that debate was a confrontation with those on the left who still believe in redistribution of wealth, centralized bureaucracy, command-and-control planning."

With so much at stake, someone had to take the heat. According to some polls, Newt Gingrich is now one of the most unpopular men in America. But when was the last time you could look at a national leader and say, "Here is someone willing to suffer public humiliation for doing what is right?"

This is one leader who deserves another look

Note: Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office