Those of us who enjoy deep readings of politicians' literary output, essays by Andrew Ferguson, and mockery of Newt Gingrich are in for a treat: Ferguson has attempted in the New York Times Magazine to read and process 21 of Gingrich's 23 published books. While the snark is satisfying, the substance is good, too. Some excerpts:
The books then and now are full of heresy. He showed a willingness to criticize other Republicans, even Reagan at the height of his popularity. He advocated a health tax on alcohol to discourage drinking — social engineering, it's called — and imagined government-issued credit cards that would allow citizens to order goods and services directly from the feds. He thought the government should run nutritional programs at grocery stores and give away some foodstuffs free. He was pushing cuts in the defense budget in 1984 and a prototype of President Obama's cash-for-clunkers program in 1995.
The ultimate problem with Gingrich's firehose approach to idea-generation wasn't the ideological cast of the ideas but their practicality. To pluck a couple of trivial examples from the scores of proposals he offers in "To Renew America": "We should work with every recovery program to develop low-cost detoxification programs." Terrific, but who's the "we," and what would the "work" entail, and how would the cost be lowered? Before you can ask the question, Gingrich has rushed ahead. Because "we need to know more about the environment," we should "develop a worldwide biological inventory." Excellent idea, for all I know, but administered how? Paid for by whom? Gingrich's vagueness was always a problem, but the books show something more: a near-total lack of interest in the political implementation of his grand ideas — a lack of interest, finally, in politics at its most mundane and consequential level. […]
In "The Art of Transformation," he manages to one-up the usual business-book jargon by compiling an impenetrable lexicon of his own. He shows us an OODA loop, for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, and connects "Islands of Excellence With Invisible Bridges" while "mind mapping" for project planning.
"Moving to the sound of the guns," he writes, "requires that we are externally rather than internally oriented, so we can hear the guns; understand our antelope" — that's what he wrote — "so we know if the guns are worth hearing; think through our deep-mid-near goals so we know which guns to respond to." […]
For all the reciprocated disdain he claims to feel for the establishment in Washington, where he has lived for more than 30 years, he is still its unwitting champion; for without the crises that Gingrich chronically imagines, the establishment would no longer be necessary.