Newt Gingrich is one of the amazing and enduring phenomena
of the past three decades in American politics and public policy.
Most well-known for his time as a congressman from Georgia
that culminated in his tumultuous years as speaker of the house
(1995-99), and for a remarkable, if unsuccessful, run for the
Republican nomination for president (2011-12), Gingrich, a
former professor of history, a PhD in his field, and one of the
most idea-oriented elected officials in American history, has
under a somewhat lower profile, written and co-written a whole
library of speculative historical novels, public policy books,
biographies, and futurist volumes. I count almost 30 books since
The acme of Gingrich’s political career was his leading an
insurrection in 1994 that brought his party back in control of
the U.S. house of representatives. Following this upset triumph,
Gingrich was elected speaker of the house, the third highest
office in the nation. He became an often effective leader of the
opposition during the two terms of Democratic President Bill
Clinton in the White House, forcing the centrist chief executive
to adopt many conservative economic policies that, in many
ways, completed the earlier Reagan “revolution” which had
first occurred more than a decade before Gingrich came to
power in the U.S. house. (Many of Gingrich’s and his GOP
colleagues’ ideas were not only adopted by Clinton, but in his
inimitable fashion, he also took credit for them!)
Gingrich, if the truth be told, was however an erratic,
temperamental and controversial manager of the house, and
eventually he retired rather than face defeat by his own colleagues.
Almost instantly slated for oblivion by the media, his opponents,
and even many of his friends, Gingrich soon demonstrated a
political resilience that is rare in American politics. Employing
a seeming endless capacity for spotting new public policy ideas,
he regrouped with several non-profit organizations/think tanks,
and quickened the pace of his political writing which had been
sporadic when he served in the Congress.
In 2011, with the incumbent Democratic president facing
increasing national economic problems, Gingrich entered the
contest for his party’s presidential nomination. The field that
cycle was initially relatively large, but not so distinguished that
Gingrich’s entry was not significant. Nonetheless, few thought he
could win, much less be a major factor in the primaries the
following year. It turned out to be a curious nomination contest,
with almost every major candidate winning a primary or caucus,
and (however briefly) topping the national polls. Gingrich won
only two primaries, but one victory, in South Carolina, for a few
days made him a very serious candidate. In the next primary,
Florida, Gingrich’s campaign organization, by now whittled down
to bare bones, was unable to keep up his momentum, and his
moment passed. (A unique aspect of the 2012 GOP primary season
was the number of debates that were held, and Gingrich established
himself as the best political debater in the nation, coming up short
only in the debate before the critical Florida primary.)
Facing a large campaign debt after 2012, Gingrich regrouped by
closing down several of his organizations, and settling into
becoming the elder idea statesman of his party and national
This brings me to Newt Gingrich’s new book (written with Ross
Worthington), just released, entitled BREAKOUT: Pioneers of
the Future, Prisoner Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle
That Will Decide America’s Fate.
In many ways, this is the apotheosis of all of Gingrich’s public
policy books that began in the 1980s. It is also the most
futuristic and optimistic, something perhaps unexpected in the
current national and international political mood which is filled
with anxiety and a lack of political imagination. Breakout is like
a world’s fair in print, with samples of future inventions,
technologies, trends and other innovations on display.
The book, in less than 250 pages, covers education, health,
energy, transportation, space travel, overcoming poverty, and
combating excessive government bureaucracy and intrusion.
What makes the book such an interesting read is that it does
not dull its topics with dry theories, data, and rhetoric, but
tells numerous anecdotes and inspiring personal stories of
those already innovating and changing America. These stories
about “breakouts” in finding new cures and drugs for healing,
emerging online education, 3-D printing, driverless cars, new
energy sources, citizen action and public transparency and a
panoply of American characters who are thinking and acting
“outside the box.”are the heart of this book.
The best tradition of American politics, practiced by its best
politicians of its major political parties, are the themes of
optimism, renewal, pragmatic idealism and basic hope for
the future. These were, in various forms, the themes of George
Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James
Madison of the founding “fathers,” and continued by Abraham
Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald
Reagan. It is also the tradition of many who did not become
president, but who have had so much impact on our American
republic, including Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Ralph
Waldo Emerson, John Dewey, Milton Friedman, and Peter
Drucker among many others.
This is the tradition in which Newt Gingrich wrote Breakout, a
tradition that goes beyond ideology and partisanship (one of his
heroes of the future is a young liberal Democrat), and seeks
to understand the great forces of technology, science and human
aspiration which endlessly form and re-form how we live in a
society of democratic capitalism with its essential components
of liberty, justice, equality before the law, free markets, open
competition and compassion.
Most of us lead lives primarily concerned with the past, the
present or the future. Newt Gingrich, historian, futurist and major
political figure of his time, somehow has managed to lead a life
of all three.
I have known Newt for almost three decades, and on occasion
have disagreed with him (and said so), but I know no one more
capable of publicly renewing himself, nor anyone who so
continually can put his finger on what is so unique about America.
This book is a classic the day it was published. But it is not a
book just to buy, only to be put on a shelf unread.
It’s a book to enjoy being read.
Copyright (c) by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.