Briefly, the book is split into three parts: a summary of former Speaker Gingrich's childhood, an apologetic for the Contract With America (where, for a brief time measured in months, it was cool to be a Republican) and the 1994-era Republican Party platform, and a play-by-play of the first 100 days of the 104th Congress where the Republican party drove to implement as many steps of the Contract With America as it could.
As this book was/is mostly an advert for the the establishment Republican party, circa 1995, only bound in hardcover form, I will dispense with the usual book review treatment and focus on a few areas which caught my attention.
The first of these is Gingrich's call to "reassert the values of American civilization". Here, he writes:
When I spoke in March 1995 to the National League of Cities, I cited [Gertrude] Himmelfarb's book [The Demoralization of Society] and asserted that the time had come to re-establish shame as a means of enforcing proper behavior. It is shameful, I said, to be a publi drunk at three in the afternoon and we ought to say so. People began applauding. It is shameful, I said, for males to have children the cannot support and we ought to say so...[it] is shameful for radio stations to play songs that advocate mutilating and raping women.Reading this with the benefit of 16 years of hindsight, it is clear that the values of the previous generation, the Baby Boomers and their parents, the Silents, drove the text of the legislation of this period.* In this legislation was embedded the values of this generation, namely, that men are the actors in society, women the bystanders. Fatherlessness and divorce the product of bad men, a function of male caprice; women were stuck with courageously cleaning up the mess. The equivalent, maybe even majority contribution to the surging divorce rate of women or government itself never registered.
Cultural signals are a powerful and legitimate means of enforcing proper behavior. One of the responsibilities of public leaders is to encourage the kind of public environment we want. Our culture should be sending over and over the message that young people should abstain from sexual intercourse until marriage, that work is a part of life, and that any male who does not take care of his children is a bum and deserves no respect.
Healthy societies send healthy signals to their children and to those who have become temporarily confused at any age. Look at the sick signals we are now sending through the entertainment industry and popular culture. Is it any wonder that society is so confused if not downright degenerate?
* The 1996 welfare reform act is a case in point. This legislation shifted the burden for children living without a father in the home significantly over to the father themselves, conveniently forgetting that (a) the State itself incentivized out of wedlock childbirth, and (b) the State quite often colluded with mothers to remove the father from the family home without his consent. But as previous generations considered father absence to be a function of abandonment, not a deliberate parendectomy, despite a torrent of data to the contrary, such a bill seemed right and proper.
As a personal anecdote, I have noticed this generational schism in how men and women are viewed. Both sexes of the older generations have difficulty recognizing feminism, indeed Marxism of all stripes, for the scourge that it is, probably because they didn't have to live through it. Easy divorce? Rather than being a vehicle to undermine the bedrock of society, the family, and where (mostly) women and (sometimes) men are incentivized to break their supposedly insoluble unions, it (divorce) is the just desserts paid to men's poor marital behavior. Otherwise, why would heroic women want to leave? Sexual harassment? Rather than being a vector that transforms the workplace from one of merit to...well, I don't know what, certainly not merit and productivity, clearly unbalanced sex harassment law is the fault of men behaving badly and their immature, locker-room behavior. Otherwise, why would long-suffering women complain so much? Domestic violence and rape laws? Well, rather than being a tool by which the Constitutional and common-law rights of men are obliterated in an effort to implement feminist DV / rape culture, such laws are instead the right and proper response to millenia of patriarchal violence and oppression. Otherwise, why would women come forward? We know women would never lie about something so terrible as a rape, or being abused by their husband, right? And abortion? Rather than being the craven murder of helpless innocents, it was instead necessary to dispose of all those pregnancies created by men who impregnated hapless women. Otherwise, why would a woman want to do something so terrible as abort a fetus, were it not for a man raping a woman, committing incest with a woman/girl, or his unwillingness to marry the mother?
Thus it is through the lens of our particular generations that issues are viewed; for Boomers and Silents, men are fundamentally evil and women are pure and good unless made otherwise by the mistakes/failures/crimes of a man. For Xers and Millenials, however, the calculus is much different. We Xers and Millenials grew up in the wasteland left behind when the Boomers nuked the culture, and it is heartening to see a great many Millenials, even more so than my fellow Xers, take a much more realist approach to both the strengths and weaknesses of each sex and proceeding from that point of departure, rather than reflexively condemning one while pedestalizing the other.
Moving on to another topic, I did appreciate the truth to the power of the bankster that Gingrich spoke when he wrote:
...inflation played a huge role in destroying the Weimar Republic. Nothing can lead to dictatorship faster...than when the middle class loses its savings through hyperinflation. The Weimar notes...ran from one hundred marks at the beginning to an overprinted bill stamped "one billion marks". In the last days of the Weimar inflation, it was not uncommon for people to bring wheelbarrows of money just to pay for groceriesI can't add to this substantively, because Mr. Gingrich is right on the money here. As soon as the rest of the world un-pegs their currencies to the dollar, and when oil and other international commodities are not priced in dollars, look out below.
I also thought he was prescient in his attack on deficit spending:
Baby Boomers need to realize that the federal government must balance its operating budget if they are ever going to be able to collect their Social Security. Those who think the situation is still too distant to worry about need look no further than Medicare to understand that America is on the precipice of substantial fiscal problems.Whodathunkit that we, 16 years later, would have made no progress whatsoever in closing deficits and fixing Medicare / Social Security. Indeed, Gingrich's own Republican party passed the largest expansion of Medicare ever through the budget-busting Medicare prescription drug benefit. So much for fiscal conservatism; via "compassionate conservatism", fiscal prudence it was quickly discarded in an obvious yet failed attempt to buy the votes of seniors with the paychecks of the young.
I also liked what Mr. Gingrich had to say about the state of the educational system. In this area, he was a bit of a Cassandra, sounding the alarm about an educational model that had long outlived its usefulness, and proposing a new way to educate Americans that captured the new way Americans will educate themselves: distance learning, outside of brick-and-mortar institutions. He contrasted what he called "third wave" education against the "second wave" industrialized educational model that we currently employ. To wit:
1. Lifetime learning versus a segmented system (in which learning only happens at "school")
2. Learner-focused versus teacher focused education
3. Achievement versus process as a measure of success (core classes that waste students' time)
4. Society-oriented versus isolated systems
5. Technology-embracing versus technology averse learning
But the one thing that resonated with me the most about Gingrich's book was his brave call to establish English as the American language. Nowadays, such a call would be condemned as hopelessly racist by left-illiberals (I'm sure it was condemned then too, but on a lesser scale). Here is what Gingrich had to say:
Sometime in the 1960s, we were told that since all people and cultures were equal, it was inappropriate for middle-class America to impose the English language on poor people and people from other cultures. The imposition of this racist, colonial way of speaking on young people of other ethnic groups would deprive them of their cultural roots. There are two problems with this argument. First, at a personal level, it is difficult for a poor person or an immigrant to get anywhere in this country without learning English.** There are nearly two hundred different languages spoken in America. Yet nearly all our business, politics, education, and commerce is conducted in English. It's just plain easier to have one standard language than a dozen. It is liberating when people can understand each other.These lessons are reinforced by history. Presently, I am reading another book, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. One of the lessons presented in the book is just how critical language is to the smooth operation of the realm. When one language predominates, government is smoother, commerce more efficient and, most importantly, culture is not only preserved but reinforced and propagated. The Romans thought language was so important to the smooth operation of their empire that they required Latin as the official language in every land they conquered, with few exceptions. They recognized that through language is culture transmitted, and through language are thoughts expressed and given form. Control the language, and to a degree the direction of the culture is guided.
** While somewhat true in 1995, the linguistic Balkanization of America has proceeded afoot, to the extent that it is quite possible to eke out a subsistence in some areas in this country while lacking the ability to speak standard English. And I'm talking both the urban ghettoes of Philadelphia and Atlanta to the farmland of Mexifornia.
The new multiculturalism takes a much more radical approach. Bilingualism keeps people actively tied to their old language and habits and maximizes the cost of the transition to becoming an American...[y]et the personal problems caused by bilingualism are overshadowed by the ultimate challenge they pose to American society. America can absorb an amazing number of people from an astonishing range of backgrounds if our goal is assimilation. If people are being encouraged to resist assimilation, the very fabric of American society with eventually break down.
Every generation has two waves of immigrants. One is geographic--we call them "immigrants". The other is temporal--we call them "children". A civilization is only one civilization deep and can be lost in a very short time. Insisting that each new generation be assimilated is the sine qua non of our survival. Without English as a common language, there is no such civilization.
All told, this book, a walk through the mind of the not-quite-Left, not-quite-Right establishment Republican party, circa 1994-1995, was quick and easy. The generational attitudes toward the relative culpability of men and women for their individual decisions was readily apparent, and the victory of the religious Left and the corporatist Right in the culture wars (especially in regard to immigration and language) is readily apparent. It was also interesting to see how we as a country have been living one collective Groundhog Day when it comes to budgetary and fiscal matters, where the issues that confronted us then are largely the ones that afflict us now.