WASHINGTON -- Get ready for a new Newt Gingrich. He's scheduled for unveiling next week at the Republican National Convention in San Diego -- kinder and gentler than the old Newt stereotype, once depicted by Time magazine as swiping Tiny Tim's crutch.
Mr. Gingrich told me, "I think my focus at the convention will be the [Alexis de] Tocqueville/[Marvin] Olasky/private charities model, which is part of our thinking that lowering taxes is the moralistic purpose of re-establishing the centerpoint of compassion in American society -- the committed individual, not the committed bureaucrat. We are the reaffirmation of the general theory that free people beat systems . . . . We represent the power of [John] Wesley and [William] Wilberforce, who believed that an ethical-moral society has to be at the base of freedom."
To those "movement conservatives" who believe Mr. Gingrich has stopped eating red meat and become a political vegetarian, the speaker has a message: "When you're making the breakthrough, you have to be very militant and break up the other side's majority. When you're an emerging majority, you have to be very conciliatory to bring in people who are timid. The techniques and attitudes we used when we were in the minority do not work now that we are in the majority. This is not me selling out or getting soft. Look at welfare reform. This is victory. It's OK to win."
There are reasons for his optimism. When Ted Kennedy signs off on Medical Savings Accounts for the self-employed and small businesses, and when Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin and Rep. John Dingell of Michigan join half the House Democrats and all but two Republicans voting to end the federal welfare entitlement, this is a clear sign that Republican ideas are prevailing.
Mr. Gingrich does not accept the gloom some Republicans feel about Bob Dole's presidential prospects. He shared with me a new 68-page "Strategy for Fall, 1996" paper that incorporates a unified plan for the re-election of a Republican Congress and the defeat of President Clinton.
Six themes for autumn
It focuses on these themes:
Under President Clinton, illegal drug use by teen-agers is up threefold.
Illegal immigration has increased -- 1.2 million more illegals than under President Bush. Said Mr. Gingrich, "We have testimony from [federal] agents in three states who've said they were ordered to under-count to help make Clinton look good."
English ought to be our primary language, but instead it is one of scores of languages spoken in our public schools.
Taxes are up, wages down.
Welfare traps families in despair.
The White House is either incompetent or corrupt.
While the president wants to take credit for an "improved" economy, Speaker Gingrich and the Republicans will say: "Taxes are up, starting with the 1990 Democratic Congress. Average economic growth since World War II, including recessions, has been 3.3 percent annually. The average under Clinton is 2.3 percent. That 1 percent difference amounts to $6,800 per year for a family of four.
"We're going to say the idea of 'take-home pay' implies that you can take it home, but it's really temporary pay, because when you buy a gallon of gas for $1.20, 56 cents is taxes. If you buy a beer, 43 percent of the cost is taxes. Bread? Twenty-eight to 32 percent is taxes. High taxes mean less take-home pay and less free time. We think this news will be of particular interest to women, who feel stressed about time."
The speaker says he's survived the heaviest political attack on a non-presidential candidate in history. He counts 13,000 anti-Gingrich commercials. But he thinks he and congressional Republicans are making a comeback in the public eye. "When you get a layer below the personality attacks," he says, "everything we're doing is popular."
Ninety days before the election and nearly two years after the vilification began, Newt Gingrich feels pretty good. His image tailor is putting the final touches on the cloak of humility he plans to wear in San Diego. Who won't tune in to see how it fits?
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.
Pub Date: 8/08/96