「華人戴明學院」是戴明哲學的學習共同體 ,致力於淵博型智識系統的研究、推廣和運用。 The purpose of this blog is to advance the ideas and ideals of W. Edwards Deming.

2016年10月30日 星期日

談:康乃爾大學商學院的創新指數;創新v (中國) 專利件數:好奇心v 專利戰 strong negative correlation between innovation and religiosity

2016.10.31 才回去看2015年9月康乃爾大學商學院的創新指數等地說明。
這種 (60~70個指標)加權指數等說法,可能只比單一指標多些,不過,有心人應該去研究
原始資料,去思考。

Global innovation rankings
The innovation gameSep 17th 2015, 12:50 BY L.S. & THE DATA TEAM





WHICH is the world’s most innovative country? Answering this question is the aim of the annual Global Innovation Index and a related report, which were published this morning by Cornell University, INSEAD, a business school, and the World Intellectual Property Organisation. The ranking of 140 countries and economies around the world, which are scored using 79 indicators, is not surprising: Switzerland, Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands and America lead the pack. But the authors also look at their data from other angles, for instance how countries do relative to their economic development and the quality of innovation (measured by indicators such as university rankings). In both cases the results are more remarkable. The chart above shows that in innovation many countries in Africa punch above their economic weight. And the chart below indicates that, even though China is now churning out a lot of patents, it is still way behind America and other rich countries when it comes to innovation quality.





~~~~~


Even though China is now churning out a lot of patents, it is still way behind America and other rich countries when it comes to innovation quality

















Which is the world’s most innovative country? From the archive


Global innovation rankings


ECON.ST







2016.1.16


專利件數 VS 宗教熱忱?



The IMT Institute for Advanced Studies Lucca have found a strong negative correlation between innovation, as measured by patents, and religiosity, measured by the share of a population that self-identifies as religious. Today’s ‪#‎Dailychart‬ shows more religious countries tend to be less innovative http://econ.st/1JN9YKy


2014.12.14
.
近20~30來,商界通常以某國取得的美國專利件數,作為該國的創新 (innovation)能力的指標。
所以近年來中國"專利件數"的成績特好,幾乎是美國和日本的總和,即遙遙領先世界各國。

"專利件數"指標的問題是未考慮專利的"質"、專利領域的分布等等問題。
專利的效益,可能有所謂"Pareto分布",即呈"重要的少數"和"瑣碎的多數"分布。
另外,真正的大創新 (transformative innovation),可能是科學上的好奇心之賜,而不是採"攻堅"方式、或填補"專利地圖"的方式。

這可以用哥德的詩來說明:
如其好奇心不以強烈的魔力引誘人,
那麼你說,人怎麼會領會
世間的種種物事多麼美妙地互相關連維繫?因為他先企求新的東西,
然後勤勉不倦地把有益的東西尋覓;
最後貪求能使他變成高貴的真善的事理。---周學普譯 《赫爾曼與陀羅特亞》頁15
*****


2015年的美國發明專利數排行榜
IBM公司2015年在美國取得7,355項專利,連續第23年稱霸美國,三星電子公司則緊追在後。第三名至第五名依序為Canon、高通和Google。這項排名僅計入以技術功能為主的發明專利,不包括外型、圖樣設計為主的新式樣專利(design patent)。
美國專利分析機構 IFI Claims 於2016/01/13公布美國發明專利(utility patent)的50強排行榜,藍色巨人 IBM 公司2015年在美國取得7,355項專利,連續第23年稱霸美國。
根據 IFI Claims 統計資料指出,2015年美國核發的專利為298,407項,較之2014年的空前新高紀錄300,678項少了一點,這現象是2007年以來的首見下滑。就退件的專利數增加,隱含可能肇因和美國專利商標主管當局的嚴格審核有相依關係。此外,2014年6月美國最高法院的裁定,讓軟體以及在網路上做生意的技術更難以取得專利。
IFI 的資料還顯示,與影像資料處理和辨識資料相關的發明大幅增加,汽車的未來也趨動創新。專利多集中在大型企業,26%的專利掌握在前50大企業手裡。
前五強(Top5)的排名情況如下:
韓國三星(Samsung)以5,072項拿下第二,
日本 Canon 以4,134項專利取得居第三強,
美國高通(Qualcomm)以2,900項落在第四強,
美國谷歌(Google)以2,835項擠進前五強排名。
其中高通(Qualcomm)由2014年的第7上升到2015年的第4名,谷歌(Google)則是由2014年的第八強進步3名擠進2015年的前五。
Top50(前50強)有兩家台灣公司進榜,其一是台積電(tsmc),另一則是鴻海(Hon Hai)。
2014年台積電以1,460項專利排行位居23,2015年專利數增加到1,774項,排名上升到第13名,一口氣進步10名。
2014年鴻海以1,537項專利和 Ericsson 並列18,只是不過,鴻海在2015年的專利數降至1,083項,排名只得落到第29名。
2015年第6到第10排名,依序是日本東芝(Toshiba, 2,627項)、日本索尼(Sony, 2,455項)、韓國 LG 電子(2,242項)、美國英特爾(Intel, 2,048項),美國微軟(Microsoft, 1,956項)。
與之2014年相較,Sony 排名由第4落到第7,微軟和日本Panasonic 則因為開始將部份專利配置到旗下轄屬子公司持有而分散總量,因此使得2015年的排名由第5掉到第10,Panasonic 由第10掉到第18名。

2016年10月28日 星期五

The "Real" Fatal Mistake That Doomed Samsung’s Galaxy Note


在回報有問題的手機中,分別取得 117 隻屬於第一批,以及 90 隻,屬於第二批。經過分析,大部分可以歸責於電池的問題,其餘問題、或是未驗出問題的比例較低。
在第一批有問題的 Galaxy Note 7 中,所採用的電池來自於三星 SDI,主要的 72.6% 明顯是電池問題。
而第二批出貨的 Galaxy Note 7 分析結果,因爲更換爲 ATL 的電池芯。所以檢驗出明顯是電池的問題有下降。不過仍然有 61.1% 跟電池有關。但是究竟是電池芯的問題,還是手機結構、電路板、軟體造成電池也會燃燒、爆炸,目前仍然在繼續追查中。

「其餘原因」需要更深的分析,以及警惕

無論是第一批 Galaxy Note 7,還是第二批分別有 12.8%,17.8% 的無法找出確實原因。這就更加耐人尋味。
三星表示分析仍會繼續,將找出確實的原因,並且改善。不過從以上的幾個數據來看,明顯 Galaxy Note 7 的問題並非來自於單一原因。這對於往後三星的手機設計、出貨,或是其他品牌的手機都產生了警惕作用。
隨著手機的發展,AP 處理器時脈、核心數大量增加、機型變薄、電池容量變大。在耗電、發熱的同時,還要做到密封的防水。是不是問題僅在 Galaxy Note 7 上發生?還是可能成爲高階手機的潛在問題?值得深究。

這篇遠比中文摘要版多出許多資訊,尤其是在美國與CPSC單位的產品召回之互動.......

http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-fatal-mistake-that-doomed-samsungs-galaxy-note-1477248978?mod=europe&mod=djemITPE_h


The Fatal Mistake That Doomed Samsung’s Galaxy Note

On the verge of challenging Apple’s mobile phone dominance, the South Korean company made a rushed decision, based on incomplete evidence, that later forced it to kill the model.


Attendees gather around display tables to view the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone during a launch event in August in New York City.
Attendees gather around display tables to view the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone during a launch event in August in New York City. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES
The X-ray and CT scans showed a pronounced bulge.
After reports of Galaxy Note 7 smartphones catching fire spread in early September, Samsung Electronics Co. executives debated how to respond. Some were skeptical the incidents amounted to much, according to people familiar with the meetings, but others thought the company needed to act decisively.
A laboratory report said scans of some faulty devices showed a protrusion in Note 7 batteries supplied by Samsung SDI Co., a company affiliate, while phones with batteries from another supplier didn’t.
It wasn’t a definitive answer, and there was no explanation for the bulges. But with consumers complaining and telecom operators demanding answers, newly appointed mobile chief D.J. Koh felt the company knew enough to recall 2.5 million phones. His suggestion was backed by Samsung’s third-generation heir apparent, Lee Jae-yong, who has advocated for more openness at one of the world’s most opaque conglomerates.
That decision in early September—to push a sweeping recall based on what turned out to be incomplete evidence—is now coming back to haunt the company.
Two weeks after Samsung began handing out millions of new phones, with batteries from the other supplier, the company was forced to all but acknowledge that its initial diagnosis was incorrect, following a spate of new incidents, some involving supposedly safe replacement devices. With regulators raising fresh questions, Messrs. Lee and Koh decided to take the drastic step of killing the phone outright.
 Samsung discontinued production of Galaxy Note 7 smartphones after incidents of the phones catching fire.
Samsung discontinued production of Galaxy Note 7 smartphones after incidents of the phones catching fire. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Galaxy Note series helped make Samsung a smartphone leader, and the Note 7, its most advanced phone ever, had all the makings of a hit. For a moment, it looked like the Galaxy Note could win over users of Apple Inc.’s iPhone and cement Samsung as one of the world’s most dominant technology companies.
Instead, as a result of the flammable phones and the botched recall Samsung’s leaders are now struggling to salvage the company’s credibility. At risk is the expected February launch of its next flagship smartphone, likely to be called the Galaxy S8.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which oversees product recalls in Samsung’s biggest smartphone market, is expected to investigate whether Samsung notified the agency soon enough of dangers posed by the device. Samsung’s decision to launch its own recall, bypassing the CPSC’s formal process for a time, may have prevented regulators from figuring out more about the root cause, some U.S. lawmakers suspect.
Samsung still doesn’t have a conclusive answer for what’s causing some Note 7s to catch fire.
A Samsung spokeswoman said the company worked quickly with regulators and took immediate action when problems arose with the phone. “We recognized that we did not correctly identify the issue the first time and remain committed to finding the root cause,” she said. “Our top priority remains the safety of our customers and retrieving 100% of the Galaxy Note 7 devices in the market.”
Outside experts have pointed to a range of possible culprits, from the software that manages how the battery interacts with other smartphone components to the design of the entire circuit.
Engineers are also looking into the possibility that the battery case may have been too small to house a battery of that capacity, according to one Samsung mobile executive.
Big product recalls are never easy. Consumers, however, are often willing to forgive mistakes if they believe the company is looking out for them and moving swiftly to address problems.
“What Samsung should have done, very early on, was to share even its preliminary findings or thoughts” with U.S. regulators rather than pushing its own recall, said Stuart Statler, a former CPSC commissioner and independent product safety consultant in Mooresville, N.C.
Samsung executives have delayed the development of the Galaxy S8 device by two weeks as engineers work to get to the bottom of the Note 7’s overheating problem, according to a member of the Galaxy S8 development team.
Meanwhile, investors have shaved off roughly $20 billion in Samsung’s market value. The company has said the recall would cost it $5 billion or more, including lost sales.
ENLARGE
Introduced in 2011, the Galaxy Note series has served as a point of pride for the South Korean company, which was long derided for following—and sued for allegedly copying—the iPhone.
The bigger-screen phone was in tune with consumer tastes. When iPhones were shrinking in size, the Galaxy Note anticipated the shift to bigger handsets, which earned it the nickname “phablet,” a mashup of phone and tablet.
By the time Samsung released its third iteration in September 2013, the Galaxy Note was a certified hit, selling 10 million units in two months. The next year, Apple released its first Galaxy Note-sized iPhone.
As word reached Samsung executives that only incremental changes were likely for Apple’s iPhone 7 this year, Mr. Koh and other top executives grew confident about their prospects for a head-to-head fall release of the next version. The company decided to skip the number 6 and jump straight to 7, a name change that would invite direct comparisons with Apple’s model.
Samsung’s engineers packed new features, including an iris scanner, water resistance, an improved stylus and about 16% more battery life than its previous Note device. Presales for the Note 7 started strong after Mr. Koh introduced the device at a lavish event at a theater in Midtown Manhattan on Aug. 2. Analysts boosted their projections for Samsung’s earnings, while investors pushed the stock to record highs.
As user reports of overheating began to trickle in days later, company executives were at first unruffled. Some suspected that many of the alleged incidents had been faked, and argued that even a small number of genuine cases shouldn’t overshadow the fact that millions of smartphones were working fine, according to people familiar with their thinking.
Gathering at Mr. Koh’s office at R5, the 27-story office tower overlooking Samsung’s sprawling Digital City campus south of Seoul, he and other mobile executives, including his predecessor, J.K. Shin, and longtime Samsung top lieutenant G.S. Choi, examined the X-ray and CT scan reports of the phone, which appeared to show heat damage to the internal structure of the battery, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Messrs. Lee and Koh believed they had all the evidence they needed to conclude the problem lay with Samsung SDI’s batteries, these people said. They argued it was more important for Samsung to do “the right thing” and act, in the words of one of the people familiar with the matter, rather than wait for more information. Doing so would have left customers in the dark longer and potentially allowed the crisis to get worse.
On Sept. 2, Mr. Koh entered a news conference room in downtown Seoul to address reporters. Without providing names, he said the company had identified a problem with one of its suppliers and it would shift production to another supplier it believed hadn’t caused the problems.
People familiar with the matter say that the supplier Samsung planned to rely on was Amperex Technology Ltd., a unit of Japanese electronic parts maker TDK Corp.
In Washington, Mr. Koh’s announcement came as a surprise to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Typically, companies work jointly with the CPSC to study a problem and plan a recall together.
Samsung didn’t notify the CPSC of the problems until later that day, according to people familiar with the matter—about two weeks after the first reported Note 7 incident.
CPSC regulations require companies to report potential product hazards within 24 hours, though the commission allows companies that are “truly uncertain” about an issue to spend a “reasonable time” investigating the situation.
Samsung also took the little-noticed decision to pursue what’s known as fast-track resolution with the CPSC. The program allows a company to shorten the agency’s sometimes-lengthy investigation of a product problem, while avoiding a formal finding by the CPSC of a defect—a maneuver that can insulate manufacturers from product-liability litigation.
The CPSC warns that some companies might not want a fast-track resolution in situations where “complex technical issues…require more time to resolve.”
At first, Samsung’s recall solution seemed to work. Consumers were turning in their phones and asking for new Note 7 phones in about 90% of the cases, Samsung said. The company’s executives basked in praise, particularly from the South Korean press that Samsung executives read obsessively, who credited Samsung with acting swiftly.
The CPSC, though, appeared unhappy with some of the company’s maneuvers. A week after Mr. Koh’s recall announcement, on Sept. 9, the agency took the unusual step of warning consumers not to use the phones while it did more research, and said it would work to determine whether Samsung’s plan to issue replacement phones was “an acceptable remedy.”
A few days later, Samsung and the CPSC finally agreed to a formal joint recall.
Meanwhile, complaints about overheating replacement phones, and of isolated cases of battery failures, began emerging. A Samsung spokesman said initially there was no safety concern.
In China, where the company used only Amperex-supplied batteries in its Note 7s, the company dismissed reported smartphone fires as fabrications, arguing it was impossible for those batteries to have caused problems.
As it became clear the reported problems were multiplying, employees describe a kind of gallows humor setting in. One mobile division executive described the Galaxy Note 7 as a “radioactive” topic, with staffers afraid of even discussing it in the company canteen.
A local television news crew camped outside the offices at 6 a.m. to film a report about how many lights were on at the company, to illustrate the depth of the company’s crisis.
Then came the evacuation of a Southwest Airlines Co. flight in early October because of a smoking Samsung smartphone.
Top executives from major telecoms operators, including Verizon Communications Inc.’s Lowell McAdam, urged Mr. Lee to quickly kill the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, according to people familiar with the matter. The executives told Mr. Lee the smartphone was becoming increasingly unsalable.
On Oct. 11, Mr. Lee called Mr. Koh and ordered him to discontinue the smartphone. Later that day, Mr. Koh wrote a letter to the company’s mobile division, a copy of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, calling the crisis “one of the toughest challenges we have ever faced.”
While the decision to abort the Note 7 has halted the damage for now, analysts have raised questions about the future of the Galaxy Note series, arguing that the brand has become too tarnished by the crisis and that the company should retire it altogether.
At least two U.S. senators, Bill Nelson of Florida and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, have asked for more details about Samsung communication with the CPSC and its handling of the phone crisis. Mr. Blumenthal noted in a letter to Samsung released publicly that so far in the current fiasco, Samsung has reported 96 incidents of batteries overheating in the U.S., including 13 burns and 47 cases of property damage.
Last week, at the urging of CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye, the agency approved a proposal for a wide-ranging inquiry into lithium ion and related batteries in coming months.
“There are few things in life I’m reasonably confident of predicting; one of those is….we’re going to have yet another issue of lithium ion batteries catching fire” from a range of devices, said CPSC commissioner Robert Adler. “This is just a massive problem.”

Newt Gingrich /Newt. Again.

2016
Robert ReichNewt Gingrich was the forerunner of Donald Trump, is now one of Trump's biggest supporters and enablers, and wants to take Trump's place after Trump implodes. Here's the evidence.




Newt Gingrich EXPLODES at Megyn Kelly Calling Trump a Sexual Predator You're Obsessed with Sex!
10/25/16 - Newt Gingrich EXPLODES at Megyn…
YOUTUBE.COM

----200980年代末、90年代初,美國國會議長Newt Gingrich (共和檔黨) 幾乎不可一世。他向戴明博士學習:家教約30小時。約1997年,他也有「醜聞」,被美國人民唾棄。真妙,他這兩年又再一次掘起,勢如破竹,連敵對的民主黨都佩服。

我沒太多功夫去研究他。不過,他剛剛在NPR(美國公共收音廣播網)發表他的信仰、人生觀。

我將末段意思列出當大家參考。

2007/7/15

The Willingness to Work for Solutions
by Newt Gingrich
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4717148

All Things Considered, June 27, 2005 • I believe that the world is inherently a very





Newt. Again.




Published: February 25, 2009

FOR CONSERVATIVES, who have traditionally valued their grand theorists more than their campaign consultants, the buildings that house Washington’s premier think tanks are like a second set of grand monuments, symbols of a movement built on brash ingenuity. The Cato Institute, headquarters of the nation’s libertarian academy, occupies a stunning steel-and-glass tower on Massachusetts Avenue, boasting the kind of light-filled, contemporary opulence you would expect to find in Silicon Valley. The American Enterprise Institute displays a tasteful logo outside its longtime offices on 17th Street, where some 200 employees and 90 scholars confront the issues of the day a few blocks from tony Dupont Circle. And several blocks from the Capitol stands the beast of them all, the almost mythical Heritage Foundation, with its $60 million budget and eight-story complex, complete with housing for 60 interns, two auditoriums and two broadcast studios. Heritage is the Parthenon of the conservative metropolis, the names of its founding donors inscribed on the lobby wall for history to remember.
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Nigel Parry for The New York Times

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Times Topics: Newt Gingrich

Talk to despairing Republicans in Congress these days, however, and you will hear little reverence for these brainy institutions, which one senior aide recently described to me, acidly, as a bunch of “moribund blogging societies.” Twelve years of Republican power in Congress — along with eight in the White House — seem to have had the effect of sapping the vitality and antiestablishment moxie from the movement’s venerable policy centers, which now spend a fair amount of time holding wonderfully esoteric brown-bag lunches about pharmaceutical prices or the British economy while, just down the street, conservative lawmakers are huddling together for warmth.
These days, to hear Republicans tell it, the conservative movement’s intellectual and strategic thunderbolts seem to be emanating, instead, from an undistinguished box of a building on K Street, amid the city’s famed corridor of lobbyists. In unmarked office suites scattered across separate floors, some 35 employees divide their duties among a consulting group, two insurgent policy centers, a documentary-film production company and a public-relations firm with only one client. That client would be the man who sits atop this emerging center of opposition, the once-defeated revolutionary who, like Che or Tito, is best known by a single name: Newt.
When most of the nonpolitical world last paid attention to Newt Gingrich, about a decade ago, he was stepping away from public life shrouded in the kind of ignominy that seemed to shadow all the sordid politics of his era. Having delivered House Republicans from decades of suffering in the minority, and having reigned for a brief time as one of the most powerful House speakers since the early part of the 20th century, Gingrich followed the same steep trajectory back down to near irrelevance. Politically, he was badly outflanked by a masterful and more pragmatic Bill Clinton; on a personal level, he was undone by petulance and hypocrisy, whining about his status on Air Force One after a state funeral and carrying on an extramarital affair while impeaching the president for lying about sexual transgressions. He became, in the public mind, a mop-haired caricature, the man depicted on the front page of The Daily News as a crying infant.
But while the last 12 months or so have been almost unimaginably dismal for the Republican Party, it has been a pretty great year for Newt. Last spring, as gas prices soared, Gingrich expertly employed the combination of an Internet appeal and some cheerleading from Sean Hannity to popularize his new slogan for increased domestic oil production — “Drill here, drill now, pay less” — and delivered to Congress a petition with more than a million signatures in support of more drilling. That campaign stiffened the resolve of Congressional Republicans, who had proved maddeningly inept at harnessing the tools of modern communication in the way their former leader had; they dug in on the issue and ultimately forced Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats into a rare surrender. (Even John McCain felt the need to change his position on drilling, leading Republicans to turn their entire convention — “Drill, baby, drill!” — into a pep rally for ExxonMobil.) In September, an emboldened Gingrich goaded influential House Republicans into revolting against Bush’s bailout plan for the banks. Gingrich’s book “Real Change” recently spent 11 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.
Now, as Republicans on the Hill begin to awaken from a November beating that left them semiconscious, Gingrich finds himself, once again, at the zenith of influence in conservative Washington. It is a fortuitous collision of man and moment. Having ceded the agenda to a Republican president for the past eight years (and having mostly obsessed over White House scandals for much of the decade before that), Republicans now find that they have strikingly little to say that isn’t entirely reactive — or reactionary. “It was like ‘The Matrix,’ when Keanu Reeves wakes up and his eyes hurt because he hasn’t used them,” David Winston, a pollster for House Republicans, told me recently, talking about the 2006 election that relegated Republicans to the minority for the first time since 1994. “We just didn’t know how to do ideas anymore.” Whatever else you think of Gingrich, he has always been considered a prospector in bold and counterintuitive thinking — floating ideas, throughout his career, that have ranged from giving every poor child a laptop to abolishing the entire concept of adolescence.
As it happens, Gingrich is also the only guy alive who can actually claim to have led a beleaguered Republican House minority back to power. During the years when Tom DeLay and Karl Rove ruled Washington, conservatives wondered what they had to learn from a has-been who had been forced from power; now they wonder if he might have just a little more magic left under that schoolboy shock of white hair. “If you said to me that I could only consult with one individual, and my job was to bring the party back, Newt Gingrich would be the guy,” says Frank Luntz, the pollster who has worked with Gingrich going back to the 1994 Contract With America, the 10-point agenda that Republicans waved around on their way to the majority. “This guy would be the perfect ‘Behind the Music’ story, because he was on top, and then he lost it all, and now he’s back and bigger than ever. It’s perfect.”
It’s also a little strange. Barack Obama ran for president, you’ll recall, on the idea that the politics of the ’90s — if not the policies that brought about unbridled prosperity — could finally be put behind us. But the ’90s, it turns out, are not so easily dispatched. Much of Obama’s own administration has been culled, perhaps necessarily, from the ranks of those who fought alongside Clinton during those dark years when they and Gingrich’s army fought wars of attrition over the budget and impeachment: Rahm Emanuel, Leon Panetta, Hillary Clinton herself. And now here comes their old adversary, back from the political dead, just to make the whole thing seem like some retro reality show — “Battle of the Aging Boomers.” Last time around, of course, Democrats got the best of their encounter with Newt. Republicans have to hope that Gingrich, an avid military historian, has learned a thing or two about how to regroup.
ON THE NIGHT OF OBAMA’S INAUGURATION, Frank Luntz organized a dinner at the Caucus Room, one of those classic Washington expense-account places, with about 15 Republican congressmen and senators, including some in the leadership. Their ears still rang with the jeers of Obama supporters on the Mall, whose taunts, aimed at George W. Bush as he sat placidly through the proceedings, had ricocheted loudly off the walls of the Capitol — it was a final indignity on a day that felt something like a funeral. Dinner was well under way by the time Gingrich arrived, but he proceeded to hold forth for hours, rallying the Republican troops who sat rapt in their chairs. Gingrich was fascinated and impressed by Obama’s address (“Those could have been our words,” he told the group), and he advised them to laminate it and keep it close by, so that they could hold the new president to his pragmatic rhetoric. He urged them to go after the nomination of the incoming Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, who had been one of the architects of the bailout plan Gingrich found so odious and who was now in trouble over unpaid taxes.
The next day, at Geithner’s confirmation hearing, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate and one of the dinner guests that night, ripped into Geithner, calling it “incomprehensible” that the nominee for Treasury hadn’t known whether he had fully paid his income taxes while he was at the International Monetary Fund. At a Republican retreat two weeks later in Virginia, Peter Roskam, an Illinois congressman who also attended the dinner, showed up with laminated copies of excerpts from Obama’s inaugural address and handed them out to his colleagues.
The point of this story isn’t that Gingrich is some kind of mind-controlling charlatan — although if you talk long enough to the small cadre of loyalists who have been with him for the better part of 30 years, you might start to wonder. It’s more that Republicans right now are desperately looking for direction from someone, ideally someone who knows how to handle an opposition president with a 65-percent approval rating. Normally this role would fall to a charismatic Congressional boss or to a vaunted strategist with a record of success. At the moment, Republicans have neither. The House leader, John Boehner, is a dealmaker of the 1980s Republican variety — smoker’s voice, sculptured hair, a lobbyist’s pinstripe suit. He’s a solid guy, the kind you could golf with or put on your board of directors, but nothing about him makes you want to charge toward a machine-gun battery to take a hill. Over on the Senate side, Mitch McConnell, an expert floor tactician, seems about as socially uncomfortable as a man can be and still reach the pinnacle of politics. The closest thing the party has to a grand strategist, Karl Rove, offers most of his wisdom on Fox News, prompting a lot of Republicans who endured his tirades during the Bush years to shudder and change the channel.
The breach here is plenty wide, and Gingrich is nothing if not politically agile. He has maintained, from his days in Congress, close relationships with colleagues who still serve in the House or who, like Kyl, have now moved on to the Senate. He has forged new alliances with leaders of the next generation as well — most notably Eric Cantor, the Virginia congressman who is minority whip, just below Boehner in the hierarchy. Then there is the group of senior aides that includes Paula Nowakowski, Boehner’s chief of staff, who told me she is barraged almost daily with what she calls Newtgrams — e-mail messages from Gingrich with lists of policy ideas, questions or advice on how to handle the caucus.
Another frequent recipient is Paul Ryan, a young Wisconsin congressman and Gingrich protégé known for burrowing into budget issues. Ryan told me he was opening presents with his children on Christmas when his BlackBerry buzzed with a question about the tax code. “He’s a total idea factory,” Ryan said. “The man will have 10 ideas in an hour. Six of them will be brilliant, two of them are in the stratosphere and two of them I’ll just flat-out disagree with. And then you’ll get 10 more ideas in the next hour.”
A lot of these e-mail messages are deeply wonkish, written in single-sentence paragraphs without punctuation or capital letters. It’s almost as if you can see Gingrich twittering away at a Starbucks while doing calculations on a wrinkled napkin. On Thanksgiving Day, for instance, in an e-mail message one recipient shared with me, Gingrich fired off a riff on an idea by Louie Gohmert, a Republican congressman from Texas, who had suggested that, instead of a stimulus bill, the party propose a payroll-tax holiday. “FICA and personal income tax combined are about $160 billion a month (you might want to check my math),” Gingrich wrote to a group of Congressional allies. “So if Pelosi proposes a $700 billion stimulus spending package in January, we could propose a 4-month tax holiday as the alternative.” In a separate e-mail message to his own aides, he wrote: “Think of no personal or corporate income tax and no fica tax for a year as a stimulus package. Am I nuts in rome or is the contrast startling.”
The tax-holiday idea never really went anywhere. Republican leaders in Congress were fixated on a more tactical question: whether the party risked more by opposing Obama outright or by exploring some kind of compromise with him. What they sought from Gingrich wasn’t the policy ideas of an unorthodox thinker so much as the strategic insight of the last Republican heavyweight to have mixed it up with a deft Democratic president.
A few days after the inauguration, I met Eric Cantor at a bench outside the House chamber, and we walked — jogged, actually — across the street to the Rayburn Building, where the Ways and Means Committee was marking up the Democratic stimulus bill. Cantor is just two years younger than Obama, and you can see how he might emerge in the years ahead as the president’s generational opposite, in the same way that Gingrich and Bill Clinton often seemed to bring out in each other their long-dormant high school personas. Where Obama sweeps through a room, effortless and aloof, the wiry Cantor emits a kind of nerdy intensity, like an actuary who really loves his work. Cantor says “frankly” a lot, usually just before he says something that’s highly calibrated.
I asked Cantor whether Gingrich was giving him useful advice for how to navigate the current moment.
“Every day, every day,” he told me. “You want specifics?”
I nodded.
“Well, generally, he is very quick to see the historic election of President Obama and the potential for his support to last, and what that means for Congress, and how we compare the success of Barack Obama to, frankly, the difficulties that Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid are having with the American public right now,” Cantor said. “You know, Congressional Democrats are nowhere near where this president is right now in terms of public opinion.”
Cantor listed some of the more extreme liberal forces — he mentioned Code Pink, the women’s antiwar group, and the “radical environmental movement,” which were about the most provocative examples he could come up with off the top of his head — that seemed, in his view, to hold sway among Democrats in Congress but whom Obama, with his centrist outlook, might need to defy. “If you watch where he’s going, since he’s been elected he’s sort of rejected some of the campaign rhetoric and said we have to deliberate, we have to be thoughtful,” Cantor went on. “He understands the burdens of the office and at the same time understands that this is a center-right country. We’re closer to that, frankly, than the majority in the House.”
THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME I had heard any Republican leader describe this tactical approach, and it struck me as surprising. Like most everyone else, I had assumed that Republicans were confronting a single, difficult question: How do you contrast yourself favorably with a wildly popular new president at a time of great urgency when you yourself are about as popular as acne? (In a poll conducted by the firm Research 2000 last month, Boehner’s approval rating hit a new low of 18 percent.) But Cantor was suggesting that Republicans might not need to contrast themselves with Obama at all — that, in fact, by appearing to share Obama’s basically moderate impulse toward policy, they could instead contrast themselves with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, with an eye toward picking up some seats in 2010. In the weeks after my meeting with Cantor, Congressional Democrats began to discern the outlines of this strategy as well, complaining that Republicans were trying to drive a wedge between them and Obama by appearing to embrace the president while criticizing the ideological rigidity of his party.
As Gingrich explained it to me back in November, just after the election, what he had been preaching to Cantor and other House Republicans was actually more radical than that. Gingrich, who likes to reduce the world to binary options, saw two basic paths for Obama: either he was going to cater to interest groups and his Congressional wing, or he was going to take a more centrist, more reformist approach to governing.
If he chose Door No. 1, then Republicans had to propose a thoughtful, alternate agenda of their own. “Screaming ‘No!’ is just not a strategy,” Gingrich told me. But he said he was betting that Obama would take the second approach — that he meant what he said about leaving the old doctrines behind and intended to govern in a way that might fundamentally realign American politics. And if that were the case, Gingrich reasoned, not only would it be politically unpalatable to stand in Obama’s way, but chances were he would soon face serious fractures within his own party and would need to create a broader coalition of partners to get his initiatives through the Congress.
In other words, Gingrich wasn’t suggesting to Cantor and the others that they should simply pretend to like Obama well enough. He was telling them that if Obama was going to move far enough in their direction, their best play — and maybe their only play — was actually to team up with him on legislation if they could.
“I already told the House and Senate Republicans, if Obama decides to govern from the center, you have to work with him,” Gingrich told me. “He’s the president of the United States. If the president of the United States walks in with a rational, moderate proposal which has his left wing up in arms and you don’t help him, you look like you’re a nihilistic party of reactionary opposition.” He pointed to the model of Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn, the Democratic tandem in the Senate and House who worked amiably with Dwight Eisenhower and, in so doing, split the Republican Party for years to come.
“I don’t actually build oppositions,” Gingrich told me, as if this business of salvaging a lost party were something he undertook every couple of months. “I build the next governing majority. I have no interest in being an opposition party.”
As a first test of this theory of engagement, however, negotiations over Obama’s stimulus plan cast doubt on how sincere Republicans were about emulating a Johnson-Rayburn model. At first, Republicans in the House and Senate went out of their way to praise the president, who staked out a negotiating position by including $250 billion worth of tax cuts in his initial proposal. Obama came to the Hill for a 90-minute meeting and seemed apologetic, according to Republicans who participated, for the way the House minority had been shut out of the rule-making process. Cantor led an economic working group in coming up with alternative ideas for the bill — basically the kind of deep tax cuts the Democrats had already rejected — and he and Boehner then delivered them to the president. “I’ve been with him four times now, and he continues to at least listen,” Cantor told me during a phone conversation before the vote. Meanwhile, in a speech at the National Press Club, McConnell sounded similarly conciliatory, vowing to “choose bipartisan solutions over partisan failures every time.”
House Democrats, however, still recalling the way Republicans treated them during their years in the minority, designed their bill as if all the Republicans had just been carted away to Guantánamo Bay. Whatever actual resolve Republicans may have had to work across party lines seemed to dissolve overnight, and they reverted to the more familiar stance of reflexive opposition.
Despite some grumbling among Democrats on the Hill, Obama’s majority didn’t fracture, as Gingrich and his minions might have hoped. In the end, House Republican leaders demanded that their members vote unanimously against the bill, and in the Senate, even after the package was trimmed in a concession to centrists from both parties, only the remaining dinosaurs from the party’s Northeastern establishment crossed the aisle. Obama himself, sounding markedly less bipartisan, skewered the diminished G.O.P. as a party that did, in fact, reflexively scream no, and Republicans did little to counter the impression; in an ill-advised remark to the National Journal’s Hotline, Pete Sessions, the Texas congressman and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, suggested that insurgent Republicans had a lot to learn from the Taliban.
And yet, in fruitlessly trying to obstruct Obama’s gargantuan stimulus bill, Republicans had come away with an issue by which to define themselves. It turned out that they actually could stand up to Obama, soaring approval ratings and all, and live to see another vote, and that provided a psychological boost to a minority party that had seemed cowed and confused. Just as important, judging from the polls and media coverage, they had at least managed to introduce a reasonable doubt about the stimulus plan into the jury box of public opinion, a note of skepticism that might linger in the months ahead. Republicans had taken the calculated risk, of course, that if the economy improved, Democrats would throw the vote back at them in the 2010 elections. But at least now, having presented a philosophical alternative, they could run against the bill in 2010 if it turned out only to swell the deficit without creating the jobs that Obama had forecast.
The night after lodging their protest against the bill on the House floor, Republican congressmen arrived at a retreat in Virginia feeling jubilant for the first time since before the presidential campaign. Waiting for them there was the evening’s keynote speaker — Gingrich, of course. Having seen his engage-and-divide strategy founder almost immediately when it came to the stimulus, Gingrich seemed to have changed his mind about Obama and resorted to his more instinctual, more confrontational cast. No longer did he talk of Obama as the kind of centrist guy you could get your arms around. In the coming days, in fact, he would deride the president’s “left-wing policies” while at the same time accuse him of “Nixonian” abuses of power.
On this night, Gingrich congratulated his troops on standing united and inspired them with stories about Charles de Gaulle’s heroism and George Washington at Valley Forge, as well as the football legends Joe Paterno and Vince Lombardi. Now was the time for Republicans to rediscover their principles, Gingrich told the congressmen. At one point, he likened himself, lightheartedly, to Moses. He’d help them cross the Red Sea once again, Gingrich vowed, but only if they promised, this time, to stay on the other side.
BEFORE HE BECAME A CONGRESSMAN, Newt Gingrich, Ph.D., taught history at West Georgia College. Interviewing Gingrich, as I did on three occasions recently, is like stopping by the office of your thesis adviser when your thesis adviser has better things to do with his time. Polite but impatient, Gingrich answers most questions pedagogically, with impromptu seminars on history or social theory. It seems important to him that you know how much he knows — which, truth be told, is quite a lot.
There are moments when this routine can verge on the absurd, like something out of a Ricky Gervais sketch. At one point, I asked Gingrich, now a healthful-looking 65, about his sudden exit from Congress in 1998. “First of all, in the Toynbeean sense, I believe in departure and return,” he told me.
“In the what sense?” I asked.
“Arnold Toynbee,” he replied matter-of-factly, as if no one would walk into his office without having read “Lectures on the Industrial Revolution in England.” “I believe in the sense that, you know, De Gaulle had to go to Colombey-les-Deux-Églises for 11 years.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Departure and return. And someone once said to me, if you don’t leave, you can’t come back, because you’ve never left.”
I was still trying to process this nugget when the slouching Gingrich, now onto a point about steel plants closing, jolted upright. “The 1913 Girl Scouts manual!” he said, or at least that’s what it sounded like. “Which I should get a copy of.” He punched a button on his phone and dialed his assistant.
“Yes, sir?”
“Can you get me about four copies of the 1913 Girl Scouts manual, ‘How Girls Can Help Their Country’?” Gingrich asked. There was a long pause on the other end.
“O.K.”
“I think it’s on Amazon,” Gingrich said helpfully. He leaned back and proceeded to explain to me that the Girl Scouts manual contained a recommendation that every girl learn to perform two jobs, just in case one of them went away. What we needed, apparently, were more steelworkers who belonged to the Girl Scouts.
Republicans had been in the minority for 24 years when suburban Atlanta sent the 35-year-old Gingrich to the House of Representatives in 1978, and they had just about accepted that their status there wouldn’t change in any of their lifetimes. From the day he arrived and began ascending the levels of leadership, Gingrich was the one guy who woke up every morning determined to reverse the flow of history. “He was himself the counterculture,” Frank Luntz says. “If people had run their own local campaigns up to then, he nationalized them. If people ran simplistically, he made it more complicated. If people ran by telling you why their opponents stunk, he ran by telling you why his side was better. He did the opposite of everything that had been done up to then, because everything up to then had been a disaster.”
Even now, all these years later, when you ask Republicans from that era what went wrong — how it was that Gingrich resigned from Congress just four years after finally becoming speaker, having suffered a major defeat at the polls and having seen his approval rating fall to 11 percent — you get a lot of blank looks and tortured shrugs. It’s as if the thing exploded so quickly that no one ever had time to reassemble the parts and figure out where the malfunction was. But whether the igniter was impeachment or the budget shutdown, everyone agrees that it was probably as much an issue of temperament as of circumstance. Gingrich is a historian and a futurist; he’s comfortable looking backward or ahead, but he doesn’t actually do all that well with the present. Possessed of a chaotic mind that moves from one obsession to the next, Gingrich flailed from objective to objective, while his missteps came to dominate the news.
Then, too, there was the question of what to do with power. Gingrich has often been prescient in his thinking about social change. In his first book, “Window of Opportunity,” published in 1984 with a weird “Dune” sort of cover featuring an eagle and a space shuttle, Gingrich wrote of a day when a growing number of Americans would work from their homes rather than commute to offices, using their own personal computers along with “information-set” telephones that would transmit vast amounts of data over the phone lines. This was when most of America was just discovering the Commodore 64. (Gingrich also predicted that factories would soon be making alloy metals in space, although he did say that this could happen only if we pursued the right policies, which, clearly, we did not.) And yet, in his machinations to bring his party back to power, Gingrich became preoccupied with process. The Contract With America was mostly a call to reform the institution of Congress; moving beyond it, turning the corner from rebellion to governance, required workable ideas beyond slashing programs and taxes.
When Gingrich looks back now on the days after his resignation, he sounds genuinely relieved. “It took me probably five seconds to switch personal assignments,” he told me recently, “because my dad was a career soldier, and I’d been through change-of-command ceremonies. I got it.” (At one point, I asked Gingrich why he hadn’t followed his father into the Army. “I was nearsighted and flat-footed,” he told me. “What did your dad think of that?” I asked. “That I was nearsighted and flat-footed,” he replied.) Freed from the constraints of governing, Gingrich turned chiefly to two pursuits: making money, which he did through speeches and television punditry, and exploring ideas, especially in the realm of technology and modernization. The jewels of his small empire on K Street are his two policy centers: the Center for Health Transformation, which is actually a for-profit association of health care providers, and the newer American Solutions, which churns out research on a broader array of issues.
Gingrich is all about offering, as he puts it, a “better value” for the American customer — constructive solutions Republicans can take on the road during the next midterm election season and beyond. “Most Republicans are not entrepreneurial,” he lamented to me. “They’re corporatists. They like the security and the comfort of a well-thought-out, highly boring boardroom meeting in which they do a PowerPoint once. And it worries them to have ideas, because ideas have edges, and they’re not totally formed, and you’ve got to prove them, and they sound strange because they’re new, and if it’s new how do you know it’s any good, because, after all, it’s new and you’ve never heard it before.”
At our first meeting in November, Gingrich laid out for me his latest preoccupation, which, surprisingly, had nothing to do with stimulus or banking. “One of the projects I’m going to launch — we don’t have a name for it yet — is an air-traffic modernization project,” Gingrich told me excitedly. “You can do a space-based air-traffic-control system with half the current number of air-traffic controllers, increase the amount of air traffic in the northeast by 40 percent, allow point-to-point flights without the controllers having to have highways in the sky, and reduce the amount of aviation fuel by 10 percent. So it’s better for the environment, better for the economy. You have far fewer delays in New York, and by the way, you cut the number of unionized air-traffic controllers by 7,000.
“Our thematic is going to be — you’re going to love this — that if you have an air-traffic delay that’s not caused by weather, take the extra time at the airport and call your two senators and your congressman and demand they pass the modernization act,” Gingrich enthused. “Now, notice what I’m doing,” he said, leaning back and smiling. “I’m offering you a better value.”
It sounded like a cool idea, to be sure, as long as you weren’t one of those poor air-traffic controllers, who, for whatever reason, have been on the wrong side of Republicans since Reagan fired them in 1981. But it was hard to imagine Republicans outflanking Obama, as we stood on the brink of global panic, by promising a better on-time ratio for Delta. This has long been the chief criticism of Gingrich among those who share his ideological convictions — that there is a randomness to his brilliance, a lack of prioritization or discipline. Gingrich may be an “idea factory,” as Paul Ryan puts it, but it sometimes seems like a factory working on triple shifts without a floor manager or anyone keeping the books. Even Gingrich’s modestly bulging waistline, which expands and contracts on some kind of lunar schedule to which only fellow Republicans seem especially attuned, is mentioned as evidence that Gingrich can’t focus on any one objective for very long.
The ideas Gingrich promotes seem to rotate every few weeks, depending on the book he has just torn through or the especially illuminating conversation he has just had, or simply on where his earnest fascination with policy has taken him this morning. One day it’s his energy plan, which includes not just drilling offshore and in the oil-shale-packed mountainous West but also the kind of massive investment in solar and wind power and biofuels that Obama and other Democrats favor. On another day it might be his favorite education idea, which entails a plan to reward low-income high-school students who graduate early with a college scholarship equal to the value of the money they’re saving the school system.
There’s not really any unified, easily distillable argument in these and other proposals, no ideology that might be charted on a continuum and labeled accordingly. Rather, the new-model Newt seems to be pursuing a ruthlessly responsive, almost-wikified brand of politics. His goal is to turn the Republicans into what he calls a “party of the American people” by linking disparate solutions whose only real relationship to one another is that they demonstrate, in surveys, what he calls “tripartisan” appeal — the broad support of Republicans, Democrats and independents. Gingrich told me he has identified about 100 ideas and positions that command anywhere from 62 percent to 93 percent support among such a cross-section of voters: giving out tax credits for installing alternative heating sources in your home (90 percent); awarding cash prizes to anyone who invents a car that gets 100 miles to the gallon (77 percent); keeping God in the Pledge of Allegiance (88 percent). Gingrich’s vision — much more Clintonian than Reaganite — is to use targeted initiatives to create a kind of mechanized compatibility with the masses.
What must be obvious even to Gingrich is that none of these calculations have much to do with what his acolytes in Congress want from him right now. Rather, what Republicans on the Hill value about Gingrich is that he has something to say about every issue, a parry for every feint, a sense of certainty and plainspokenness in confronting policy issues that most Republicans have either ignored for a decade or reduced to hopelessly leaden detail. Gingrich thinks about ideas strategically, as a way of countering his opponents or wooing new constituencies, and this is something Republicans have failed to do almost from the day he left Capitol Hill. The party’s besieged leaders aren’t looking to Gingrich to be the architect of some grand new philosophical structure. Rather, they’re hoping he can help erect some armaments around the ideological fortress in which they now find themselves trapped, in danger of being completely overrun.
I SPENT A LOT OF TIME reporting on the world of progressive politics after the 2004 election, and it’s hard to miss the nearly perfect symmetry between that Democratic moment and the one Republicans find themselves confronting today. Like Democrats after John Kerry’s defeat, Republicans now whine about their failed strategists or their flawed candidate or a media that refuses to expose the obvious deficiency of their opponents. The Democratic establishment in 2005 was under assault from online activists who demanded that the party modernize its message and appeal to voters in all 50 states; now conservative blogs like The Next Right and The New Majority are making the exact same argument daily. Wealthy Democrats got behind a policy group called the Center for American Progress because, they said, the left had no intellectual or rapid response “infrastructure” to compete with the likes of Heritage and Cato. It’s almost comical, then, to hear senior Republicans complain now that none of their policy groups have the capacity to compete with a liberal behemoth like the Center for American Progress.
The conversation dominating Republican politics is how to rebuild. There are no neatly distinct schools of thought in this inchoate debate. In an important sense, though, the argument in Republican circles is the same one that preoccupied Democrats in 2005 — that is, whether the party’s priority should be to retrench ideologically or whether it is more important to fan out in search of a broader message and audience. These aren’t really mutually exclusive schools of thought — most influential Republicans will tell you they need to do both — but which approach you emphasize says a lot about what kind of Republican Party you would like to emerge from the ruins of Bushism.
The retrenchers see the Bush era principally as a cautionary tale in forgetting where you came from. In their view, Bush and the Republican Congress proved to be about as grounded in conservative principle, fiscally and internationally, as Jimmy Carter and Tip O’Neill — spending the nation into debt with patronage projects, going soft on immigration, passing a massive entitlement program for prescription drugs, piling up indictments and mismanaging the military. Republicans lost the public not because their ideology became less relevant or less credible, the retrenchers argue, but because it was twisted in the morass of governing. The only way back, then, is for the party to rededicate itself either to fiscal conservatism or social conservatism or some combination of the two, which means, first and foremost, exposing Obama and Democrats on the Hill for the elitist liberals they really are.
As a broad generalization, most of those talking the loudest about retrenchment and confrontation are in the activist wing of the party; they’re the death-before-taxes conservatives or the picket-abortion-clinics conservatives or the online conservatives who incline, like their liberal counterparts, toward ideological purity. I got a sense of what this kind of combative approach might sound like when I called Grover Norquist, the anti-tax zealot who convenes a weekly meeting of influential Republican operatives. Norquist was fuming that Obama, who had pledged not to raise taxes on anyone but the wealthy, had just signed a children’s health care bill that included a tax on cigarettes.
“He’s a liar,” Norquist said of the president. “He knew he was lying the whole time. Shame on him. He can no longer look us in the eye and say he won the election fair and square.” This seemed a little strong to me — it wasn’t as if Obama had just dumped nine million stolen votes out of a suitcase onto his desk — but Norquist was getting himself worked up now. “Rich people like him can afford an extra 61 cents,” he went on. “Poor people can’t. And he does not care.”
For those Republicans you might call broadeners, on the other hand, rants against the new president are a losing proposition. More reform-minded than ideological, they look at the Bush debacle as the predictable failure of insular and extremist politics — a retreat from the “compassionate conservatism” that Bush once promised. Conservatism, in their view, does not mean catering to a dwindling base of white and older voters, big business and evangelicals, while younger voters, women, urbanites and minorities recoil from the Republican brand. Much of the energy here is coming from the governors, who as a rule are forced by political reality to take a less divisive approach to governing. Several of them — including two of McCain’s strongest backers last fall, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Charlie Crist of Florida — went as far as to publicly get behind Obama’s stimulus, which they badly needed to plug gaping holes in their budgets.
This intramural disagreement raises basic questions for Republicans about what kind of party they actually want to be in the 21st century. Is the Republican future going to continue to rely on country-club denizens and the rural bloc, or should it aim more for working-class Catholics or recent immigrants? Can a party trying to expand its coalition afford to make fundamentalist religious values a core tenet of its ideology? Or to assault the very idea of government? In many ways, as the most-blogged-about politician since the election, Sarah Palin has become a kaleidoscope through which to view these questions. For many Republicans, the Alaska governor and hockey mom is the new and galvanizing face of conservative America; to others, Palin personifies everything that’s wrong with the party, an approach short on intellect and long on cultural resentment.
Gingrich seems to have decided not to choose sides in this debate. On one hand, he holds himself up as the heir to the more progressive, reformist tradition in of his party, an intellectual provocateur in the model of early progressives like Teddy Roosevelt, Robert La Follette and Hiram Johnson. Twice during our conversations, Gingrich referred me to the chapter in Theodore White’s “Making of the President, 1960” in which White describes how Roosevelt led the progressives out of the Republican Party, leaving behind a more reactionary, isolationist wing that would dominate the party for most of the next 50 years. To Gingrich, this is the same tension that exists today, and he describes it as a continuing struggle between ideas and ignorance, between one group that always wants to modernize the party and another that’s nostalgic for the past.
And yet, at the same time, Gingrich pointedly declines to do what Roosevelt and La Follette did, which is to directly confront the Republican orthodoxies of their day. Those reformers demanded their fellow Republicans make a choice between ideas and ignorance. By contrast, Gingrich doesn’t really challenge any core ideological precept of the Bush era — only the strategy of “base mobilization” that underlay it. Nor do the last several months of economic calamity seem to have ignited in him any of the populist fervor that energized an earlier generation of progressives. His main remedy for the financial crisis has been to repeal the Sarbanes-Oxley law that Congress passed to step up regulation after the Enron scandal; Gingrich claims such accounting rules as “mark to market” are needlessly crippling banks and small businesses. In other words, his prescription for the runaway financial industry is to regulate it less — a position that hardly sounds like a departure from Bush, let alone progressive or insurrectionary.
At a moment when the role of religious fundamentalism in the party is a central question for reformers, Gingrich, rather than making any kind of case for a new enlightenment, has in fact gone to great lengths to placate Christian conservatives. The family-values crowd has never completely embraced Newt, probably because he has been married three times, most recently to a former Hill staff member, Callista Bisek. In 2006, though, Gingrich wrote a book called “Rediscovering God in America” — part of a new canon of work he has done reaffirming the role of religion in public life. The following year, he went on radio with the evangelical minister James Dobson to apologize for having been unfaithful to his second wife. (A Baptist since graduate school, Gingrich said he will soon convert to Catholicism, his wife’s faith.)
Gingrich’s defining strength as a speechifier is his ability to read a crowd. He’s not a gifted orator like Obama nor especially magnetic like Clinton, but admirers marvel at his capacity to gauge what works and integrate it into his standard routine. In a sense, this is what Gingrich did in the ’90s. He saw early on how the culture of scandal was changing politics, and he managed to take down Jim Wright, the reigning Democratic speaker, over a book deal. He heard the public’s frustration with the culture of Congress, internalized it and converted it into a 10-point contract and the undoing of the political order. Similarly, the tripartisan Newt is a Republican prototype engineered to succeed in the pragmatic age of Obama.
“Newt is very good at popularizing conservative approaches in ways that seem appealing to people,” John Podesta, President Clinton’s last chief of staff and now president of the Center for American Progress, suggested when we talked. “In a party that’s desperate and out of ideas and carries the burden of being identified with Bush, Newt will figure out how to escape that trap by making it seem like he had nothing to do with all that and that he has ideas that are salient to today’s political climate.
“In fact, I think Bush pursued the macroeconomic policies that Newt pursued in the 1990s,” Podesta told me. “Newt’s a legitimate reformer, but I don’t really think he’s in the progressive tradition.”
IN 1962, TWO YEARS PAST A NARROW presidential defeat, Richard Nixon got walloped in a race for California governor, went downstairs to the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton and put his career out of its misery. (“You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”) Nixon then faded into the background and watched from a distance while Barry Goldwater borrowed the keys to the party and crashed it headlong into a wall, leaving twisted wreckage and no one with the stature to fix it. Suddenly Republicans found themselves in need of a serious mind, even one with serious flaws. By 1969, Nixon, who fulfilled no one’s concept of glamorous, was unpacking boxes in the Oval Office.
Newt Gingrich had to wait a little longer for his rehabilitation, but there are parallels between Nixon’s journey and his. It may seem inconceivable to those outside the party, the idea of this aging, white-haired holdover from the ’90s going up against the incumbent Obama in 2012. And yet, in Republican Washington, the idea is taken quite seriously. “If you were going to make a list of 10 potential Republican nominees, Newt would be on any list,” Norquist told me. “He’s probably in most people’s Top 5.” Twice during the course of reporting this article, I sat down in Washington restaurants only to hear the people next to me speculating about Gingrich’s prospective 2012 campaign.
Gingrich exhibited obvious but short-lived interest in a 2008 presidential run, at one point musing that he might run if his supporters could raise $30 million. During a conversation in the back of a Cadillac Escalade in the first week of February, on his way to a speech, Gingrich told me he would have to make a decision about the next election by the early weeks of 2011. He and his wife just finished making a documentary about Reagan, and he said he had been thinking about how Reagan had found his way to the presidency only after he had focused most of his energy on shaping a political movement.
Gingrich said he was focused on building his own movement, his party of the American people. “Now, if in that process I end up helping to shape the ideas and the language and the solutions that for a long period of time define the choices in America, then I’ve succeeded,” he said. “If in that process personal ambition leads to the presidency, that’s fine, but it’s a secondary achievement, I think.”
I said I doubted anyone could be elected president if he actually felt that way.
“I think I’m closer to Benjamin Franklin than to George Washington,” Gingrich told me. “I’m a contributor to my country and to my times. If it turns out that there’s a moment when it makes sense to run, then I’ll run. But if I end up never being able to run, then it won’t devastate me.”
Politicians say things like this all the time, albeit without the grand historical references; rarely do they mean it. But I had the sense Gingrich actually might. He never craved retail politics the way his nemesis, Bill Clinton, did. (Such is the oddity of the speaker’s job that a person can gain national power and never be elected by voters outside a single district in Georgia.) For Gingrich, it’s about the theories and the strategy and the ideas, and for a decade, nobody wanted to hear them. Now Bush is gone, Tom DeLay is staving off jail time, John McCain is playing out the string in the Senate and the leaders of a doleful party look to their last great thinker for some inspiration. For Gingrich, that might well be enough.
“If you’d gone around to the establishment and asked about me in 1999 or 2000, they would have used the word ‘was,’ ” Gingrich said. “And now I think they’d use the word ‘is.’ And, you know, in a decade, that’s. . . . ” His voice trailed off, and he glanced down again at the sheaf of papers in his lap. I knew what he was thinking, something about departure and return.

Matt Bai, who covers politics for the magazine, is the author of “The Argument: Inside the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics.”

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