The Magazine


Mar 17, 1997, Vol. 2, No. 26 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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In his craving for "systems," Gingrich shows the abiding influence of that great literary genre, the pop business book. Each year thousands of meatball middle managers buy Gnostic texts like Team-building to Your First Million and Beyond and Secrets of Total Quality Management for Overnight Success. Most of those meatballs, of course, vote Republican, and perhaps for that reason Gingrich has shown himself comfortable with their ways of thinking. The evidence indicates, in fact, that he is one of them.

The purpose of such management books is to take a series of banal propositions and make them as complicated as possible, by means of lists, diagrams, and jargon; this creates an illusion of originality or profundity. It is Gingrich's method as well. You can see it even now, in the Movement Planning Proposal. Somewhere he came upon the commonplace observation that people like you more if you listen to them when they talk and help them when they ask. As rendered by Gingrich, this has become a four-part "Leadership Model": "Listen-Learn-Help-Lead."

So too his "Planning System" of "Vision-Strategies-Projects-Tactics." In normal language, the point seems to be: "Have a pretty good idea of what you want to do before you do it." One wonders why he hasn't yet rendered this four-part system as a trapezoid; all it would take is the right software, and the meatballs would be floored.

As it happens, both the planning system and leadership style have been constants in Gingrich's thinking, dating back at least to the late 1980s. But in the speaker's philosophical journey, constants have been the exception rather than the rule. More typically, the words change continuously, and with them the "substance" they are meant to denote. What never varies is the tone of impending crisis. The urgency is great because the stakes are high: " literally the future of the human race," as he wrote in one planning document from 1993. The literally is pure Gingrich. He disdains the concrete in favor of the abstract, preferring nouns like vision, strategies, structures and verbs like implement, empower, prioritize. His taste in adjectives runs to the large: historic, incredible, amazing. And his favorite adverb is frankly, often intensified by quite. His thinking is never less than cataclysmic, and the result of his efforts, as he describes it, will never be less than Utopia: "If America launches a rebirth of freedom by renewing American civilization we will have the personal energy, the multi- racial outlook, the cultural certainty, and the economic, political and military strength to lead the entire human race to freedom, prosperity and safety."

And to think that most Republicans just want him -- him, Newt Gingrich, the Teacher, the Definer, the Advocate, the Leader (possibly) of the Civilizing Forces -- to cut the capital-gains tax!