The Magazine

WHY NEWT MUST RUN

Nov 27, 1995, Vol. 1, No. 11 • By ARIANNA HUFFINGTON
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The second moral imperative was again identified by the speaker in his speech on the night of the Million Man March: "I don't think that any white conservative anywhere in America ought to look at Louis Farrakhan and just condemn him, without asking yourself where were you when the children died, where were you when the schools failed, where were you when they had no hope, and unless we're prepared to roll up our sleeves and we are prepared to reach out and to say, "I'll give you an alternative...'" There is a moral imperative to articulate the alternative not every now and then but with a sense of urgency, day in and day out, in full-length speeches and in answers at press conferences, on talk radio and on Oprah and on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, until this becomes a revolution with a human face and Americans recognize it as their own.

The presidential race provides an ideal opportunity to use the bully pulpit to paint vivid pictures of how we will rebuild our communities and renew American civilization. There is a moral imperative not only to demonstrate how rotten and full of holes is the celebrated government safety net but to use the spotlight of presidential politics to become part of the solution -- to challenge Americans to join in weaving a new and true safety net out of their own actions and compassion, to make a lasting difference in their own communities.

Now the strategic imperative for running. The risks of doing nothing -- of following the course of least resistance -- are always underestimated. Gingrich today is not the Gingrich of January 1995. He is still speaker of the House, but he is no longer Master of the Universe, with a president who feels compelled to remind the press corps that he is still relevant. And the speakership is going to decrease further in value if the message of the revolution continues to be communicated so poorly. While Gingrich is trapped in the role of combative legislator, and there is no ideological standard- bearer to rally 60 percent of the electorate behind the agenda, both the leader of the revolution and its legislative achievements will continue to lose support.

Politics, like life, is paradoxical. And the same strategic arguments that are used to dissuade Gingrich from running for president -- his duty to finish the job on the Hill and his very high negatives -- may be the most compelling arguments in favor of his candidacy. After all, the greatest obstacle to completing the job will be public opinion, and the most direct way for Gingrich to turn around both public opinion and his numbers may be to delegate the daily combat on the Hill to a team of his most able lieutenants and take the message to the valleys.

Is it not worth the sacrifice if Gingrich can be liberated from his coalition-building job in the House to build consensus in the country? And wouldn't the House freshmen be far more grateful to him if he helped create a national climate that would make it easier for them to defend their voting records when they're fighting for their seats next November?

Freshmen are looking carefully at the disappointing results of the November 7 elections and are not assuaged by the official GOP spin -- that Republican candidate Larry Forgy lost the governor's race in Kentucky only because he failed to respond to personal attacks by Paul Patton, his Democratic opponent. Don Ringe, who was the media consultant on Forgy's campaign and personally read over 4,000 responses to nightly tracking polls, is convinced that the Patton campaign's attacks on the Republican agenda were what really hurt Forgy. "Forgy's unfavorables," Ringe told me "were exactly the same as his opponent's right up to election night -- a relatively low 29 percent. It was not until the Democrats began running ads hanging Gingrich and Medicare around our necks that our numbers began to sink." Come next fall, Dick Morris will hang Gingrich and Medicare and school lunches and tax cuts for the rich and a whole lot more around the Republican candidates" necks. Gingrich nationalized the election in "94; Clinton will nationalize it in '96.

But just as the Gingrich of November 1995 is different from the one who assumed the speakership, so too the Gingrich of November 1996 could be a far different, far more inspiring public figure. Gingrich may be a lightning rod, but he also embodies the revolution like no one else. He is its most articulate, self-confident, and unapologetic voice, and he burns with conviction that America can and will be a better place because of it. And if he's sufficiently freed up from the punishing legislative schedule of the last few months, he can rediscover the youthful realization that drove him to dedicate his life to politics in the first place:

that at certain critical moments in history, effective leadership is all that stands between a civilization and its collapse.