By Jacob Weisberg
And you think you’re busy. Consider the plight of the poor speaker of the House. Item No. 1 on his list of things to do for June 30, 1993, was to “articulate the vision of civilizing humanity and recivilizing all Americans.” That task completed, he intended to “define, plan and begin to organize the movement for civilization and the effort to transform the welfare state into an opportunity society to help people achieve productivity, responsibility and safety so they can achieve prosperity and freedom so they can pursue happiness.” Perhaps anticipating some slight feeling of exhaustion after completing such tasks, Gingrich also reminded himself (No. 6) about “diet, exercise, recreational renewal with Marianne.” Oh, and Newt, don’t forget to pick up a gallon of milk on your way home.
This personal agenda is but one of many treasures to be found in a huge, paperbound tome with the sexless title In the Matter of Representative Newt Gingrich: Exhibits to Draft Report of the Select Committee on Ethics. Published as an evidentiary annex to the much shorter and duller House Ethics Committee report itself, the volume contains notes, memos, doodles, cancelled checks, and other Newt ephemera from 1990 to 1994. Many pages are reproduced in Gingrich’s own, open-this-parcel-at-your-own-risk, don’t-mind-the-protruding-wires scrawl. And though it came with a bill to the author for $300,000 instead of a $4.5 million advance, In the Matter is a book that, unlike To Renew America, captures the essence of what the Chinese might call Newt Gingrich Thought. In the spirit of recreational renewal, then, let us delve.
There is some tough sledding before you get to the fun part. In working out plans for his various front groups and fronts-within-fronts, Gingrich speaks in a language consisting almost exclusively of acronyms (COS, PFF, GOPAC, ALOF, AOW, ACT, RAC, and CONET, among others) and abstract nouns (opportunity, responsibility, civilization, vision, organization, analysis, dissemination, etc.). These nouns are often grouped in motivational quadruplets. Gingrich never asks anyone to listen; he admonishes them to Listen, Learn, Help, and Lead. He organizes his activities according to Visions, Strategies, Projects, and Tactics. At another point, he suggests that Republicans consider the application of Wedges, Magnets, Shields, and Turf. Failing that, he recommends Message, Mechanism, Method, and Team Building to advance the goals of Freedom, Self-Government, Safety, and Prosperity.
In his heart, the speaker is a modules man. In developing the course materials for his college course, “Renewing American Civilization,” he suggests the need for a “Core Doctrine Module.” He does not wish to neglect, however, The Flying Upside-Down Module (meaning not explained), the We Are a Majority Module, or the Quality Module. Modules are not to be confused with models, such as the Tory Franchise Model (a plan for conservatives to capture marginal districts). Nor are they synonymous with paradigms, as in the Vision Implementation Paradigm described in Exhibit 98.
As he flies around like George Jetson in his upside-down module, Gingrich is ever counting. He offers two reasons why we must replace the welfare state, three steps toward success, Four Great Truths of our Generation, five Pillars of Freedom and Progress, seven aspects of committing ourselves to real change, nine zones of invention and creativity, 10 steps toward Renewing American Civilization, 13 Renewing America Strategies, 14 steps to replacing the welfare state with an opportunity society, and 17 key factors in a House victory. These are easier to remember if you sing them. On the fifth day of Gingrich, my true love gave to me: five pillars of freedom and progress, four great truths of our generation, three steps toward success, two reasons we must replace the welfare state, and a 501(c)(3).
N ewt often resorts to visual aids as well. In one sketch of a private cosmology, detailed in the speaker’s Unabomber style of random capitalization, “NEWT action” is at the center, hurling arrows in every direction. To the left lie: build up, preparAtion, and attention Focusing. On the right: FOllOW through, diSSEMINATion, and consolidAtion then improved EVAluAtion and improved preparation For Future action. In another picture, perhaps the speaker’s most fluid and evocative rendering, stick figures representing Newt and Marianne recreate renewingly at the center of their solar system. Radiating out are: HOUSE and other GOP members, NAtionAl Whip, technology, quality, Olympics, the rest OF Georgia GOP, 6th District, MiliTary Foreign policy, Speeches, C-SPAN, Other GOP, recreation, MiSSion-MOVement planning-development, health, Teach?, write books, and something that looks like “write eMoos.”
You would be hard pressed to argue that Gingrich wants a positive self-image. In Exhibit 42, he scribbles out what he sees as his own “primary Mission.”
–Advocate of civilization
–definer of civilizAtion
–Teacher of the rules of civilization
–arouser of those who Form civilizAtion
–Organizer of the pro-civilization activists
–leader (possibly) of the civilizing Forces.
Only “possibly”? This pang of modesty soon passes. Before long, Gingrich is writing to his colleagues who are helping to plan his college course: “Our goal is education and not immediate profit. Together we are going to make history as well as teach it.” In another ransom-note style memo, he breaks down his list of things to do into two categories: 1993-2018 and 2018 onward. In the first 25 years, he will write “a SerIEs oF booKs (’The history of Freedom, prosperity and safety’).” In the second category, he will create “A body of rules and EXamples that is a doctrine of Freedom, self-government, safety and prosperity.”
Finally there is Newt’s deep dada mode. “I keep reminding my friends we’ve entered the decade of the teenage mutant ninja turtle,” he offers in one speech draft. Who are these friends? Why do they need constant reminders? Have they suggested that he see somebody? “We are in the business of transforming the United States from a welfare state into an opportunity society–the opportunity society is based on the basic principles of #11,” he scribbles in another memo. Is this a Fermat’s Last Theorem-type joke? There is no “#11.” In the agenda for a meeting to consider the future of one of his outfits, “American Citizens Television,” the following “positive” alternatives are offered:
a) Send Clear Signals
b) Allow Charter Members to Earmark Funds
c) Adopt North Pole rules on spending
d) Great show for September 29
e) All out effort November 11-12 Charter Meeting
f) Renewed Emphasis on Fund Raising
g) Find Cinderella.
I don’t know about you guys, but I say we find Cinderella.
He is $300,000 poorer, perhaps, but rich in the fruits of his own imagination. Another sheet of grandiose, lunatic jottings ends with the demented scrawl: “This page is the highest vAlue assigNMent/ tasK/ qua of 1993.” OK, Newt, we’ll pay. Just please don’t hurt us.