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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Book Thirty-Four

The thirty-fourth book we read this year is To Renew America, by Newt Gingrich. This book is now twelve years old, but much of what Mr. Gingrich has to say is still valid. We are not really politically conscious, so we chose this book mostly because we wanted to expand our understanding of Mr. Gingrich, and because it was available on Bookmooch and we have lots of extra points.

Mr. Gingrich had a high profile in 1994 and 1995, when he and the Republican party took control of Congress and in the first one hundred days passed the ten-point Contract With America. That is already more than we knew about him at the time. However, there was an inconspicuous program on public television, called "Ethics in America", that had captured us as a devoted viewer. In each episode a panel of noteworthy people from all disciplines would debate an ethical issue. Mr. Gingrich appeared on the panel in at least one of those episodes, and he impressed us as an intelligent, moral representative of the people. This impression holds up in his book.

The book is divided in three major parts. To begin, Mr. Gingrich explains in detail what he believes to be the six major challenges that America faces. Next he presents the story behind the Contract With America, and how it was accomplished. Finally, he addresses numerous critical issues that have a direct impact on his vision of a renewed, recommitted American future.

The one challenge that resonated most with us was Balancing the Budget and Saving Social Security and Medicare. He describes the runaway national debt as "an extremely regressive form of income redistribution." The taxes the average American pays are ultimately going to the wealthy bondholders. When viewed in this way, it seems obvious to us that liberals enrage the public over tax cuts and loopholes for the wealthy, while it is the very big government they endorse that is doing the most to make the wealthy wealthier. In addition, the extensive borrowing of the government drives up the interest rates for other borrowers, namely us. The importance of the debt is evident when we think what could be done without it. If we are paying thirteen percent interest on the national debt, or even on our own credit cards, that is money spent on absolutely nothing. What could you afford with thirteen percent more buying power? If the money the government spends on interest alone could be spent on something else, how many more schools, or police, or energy research grants could there be?

One of Mr. Gingrich's basic beliefs is that less government is best government:
... what we really want to do is to devolve power all the way out of government and back to working American families. We want to leave choices and resources in the hands of individuals and let them decide if they prefer government, the profit-making sector, the nonprofit sector, or even no solution at all to their problems. It is important to remember that freedom ultimately includes the right to say no. If you must say yes to something--or everything--then you are not free.
In his reflections on national defense, Mr. Gingrich examined the responsibility that America had accepted in opposing the Soviet Union and communism in the Cold War. He noted that once the Soviet Union collapsed, and victory could be claimed, America's responsibility actually increased. We see the same situation today in Iraq where America took on the responsibility of bringing about a change in the government, and now is faced with even greater responsibilities in more places requiring firmer resolve and larger resources.

This book covers a wide range of issues, from education to immigration, from taxes to drugs, from language to health care. It is clear and concise, a quick read, although we did become mildly confused at the profusion of numbers in the chapter about the budget. In the chapter concerning Violent Crime, Freedom from Fear, and the Right to Bear Arms, Mr. Gingrich says the key to making America safer and free from fear is not to ban guns, but
... to focus our attention on violent people and not be drawn off into emotionally satisfying detours that harass the honest citizen but have no impact on crime.
Somehow people seem to have forgotten that freedom must be protected, and though we hire others, like police, to protect us, it is still ultimately our own responsibility. We assume a right to bear arms means not only guns, but swords or knives or other weapons by which we are able to defend our life, liberty, and happiness against the next King George, be he a Hanover or a Bush.

While reading we noticed how one-sided most public officials are portrayed by the media. Mr. Gingrich reveals that good qualities exist in many people, conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans. No one in the government wants to bring about the ruin of American society. However, we need to take a hard look at certain of our experiments, such as welfare, and realise the results are not what we had intended. When, in 1994, Speaker of the House Tom Foley filed a lawsuit against a successful referendum in favor of term limits in his home state, it was clear that some politicians had become so drunk on their power that they had forgotten they are elected by the people to represent the people, not to sue them. America needs critical thinking and an eye on the future. We need people like Mr. Gingrich who are willing to take risks, to question everything, and to engage people in level-headed debate of the issues.

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