INSTANT MANIFESTOS FROM NEWT AND DICK
TO RENEW AMERICA
By Newt Gingrich
HarperCollins 260pp $24
THE FREEDOM REVOLUTION
By Dick Armey
Regnery 318pp $24.95
House Speaker Newt Gingrich and House Majority Leader Dick Armey have much in common. Both are former professors at state schools in the South who became conservative political revolutionaries. The 1994 Republican landslide propelled them to power on Capitol Hill. And now, both have written books to spread the gospel of free-market capitalism and social conservatism.
Despite their ideological similarities, Gingrich, a former history professor at West Georgia College, and Armey, a North Texas State University economist, have starkly different personalities. Info Age philosopher Gingrich fancies himself as the CEO of the GOP revolution, while the well-organized Armey acts as its chief operating officer. Armey cultivates bipartisan friendships, though his withering wit sometimes gets him into trouble. Gingrich is relentlessly partisan and incessantly serious. These divergent personalities are readily apparent in their books.
Neither of the quickly produced works is destined to become a classic. Both lack scholarly polish, and both contain sloppy mistakes. (Gingrich misspells the name of NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin and calls muckraking journalist Brooks Jackson "Jackson Brooks," while Armey confuses McCaw Cellular Communications Inc. with the McGraw-Hill Cos.)
Gingrich's To Renew America too often seems to be the random thoughts of Speaker Newt. Many of its ideas have been lifted from speeches, and there is no unifying theme. A chapter on crime is followed by a spirited defense of Rush Limbaugh, which is followed by a discussion of taxes.
Like Gingrich the politician, the book is uncompromising, humorless, and often rambling. But like Gingrich the thinker, it is also provocative, imaginative, and sometimes brilliant. His proposals to streamline defense procurement and to modernize health-care delivery are compelling. But Gingrich's self-righteousness can, at times, alienate even a sympathetic reader. Take his unbending conclusion after he outlines eight innovative solutions to the nation's welfare dilemma: "If we are truly serious about helping the poor," he writes, "we must undertake all eight reforms simultaneously." It's Newt's way or no way.
Armey's The Freedom Revolution is better-focused. Citing his economics background and quoting his own folksy axioms ("The market is rational and the government is dumb"), the Texas lawmaker fingers New Deal and Great Society programs as the greatest threats to America's freedom. To cure problems as diverse as poverty, education, health care, and trade, he suggests unfettered capitalism--and his 17% flat-tax plan, to which he devotes a thought-provoking chapter. Occasionally, harsh Armey doctrine is jolting: He compares New Deal architects to Stalinist state planners, and he dismisses Watergate as "one incident of breaking and entering and one lie."
But those intense moments are broken up by wonderful bits of offbeat humor. The best: Armey's sarcastic account of a Democratic hearing at which Jane Fonda, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek pleaded for federal assistance to family farmers. The actresses, he wrote, were "on hand to share the knowledge they'd recently acquired playing farm women in movies.... Jane's expert testimony carried particular weight because she was a second-generation Hollywood farm girl, her father having starred in The Grapes of Wrath."
Gingrich and Armey agree on most issues, although Armey views the nation's problems through an economic lens and Gingrich is more concerned about the social roots of our ills. That distinction may explain their deepest area of disagreement: immigration. Gingrich focuses on curbing illegal immigration and even suggests introducing a national identity card with an embedded hologram. Armey dismisses such a card as a Big Brother scheme to gather information on law-abiding Americans in "a giant government computer bank." And he delivers an impassioned defense of immigration, arguing that newcomers don't take jobs from the native-born and contribute far more in taxes than they receive in government benefits.
While Gingrich directs all of his fire at Democrats, Armey is particularly bitter about what he sees as the economic-policy treason of former President George Bush and his budget director, Richard G. Darman. He derides the Bush Presidency as a backslide from the heady days of Ronald Reagan. He's still furious about the 1990 budget deal--in which Bush agreed to raise taxes as part of a deficit-reduction plan. Still, he sees a silver lining to the 1990 cloud: It accelerated the antitax revolution that culminated four years later in the GOP takeover of Congress.
It's just that kind of conclusion that makes Armey's overall tone far more upbeat than Gingrich's. In Armey's view, the environmentalists, the antinuke activists, and the population-bomb Cassandras have been exaggerating our world's problems--which can be fixed if we follow the teachings of classical economist Adam Smith. Gingrich warns darkly of a decline and fall of American civilization if recent trends are not reversed in a hurry. His stark conclusion: "To renew or to decay. At no time in the history of our nation has the choice been clearer."
Gingrich's book has been the subject of controversy ever since he accepted (and then returned) a $4.5 million advance from a publishing house affiliated with media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Still, Gingrich could make millions from royalties if the book remains a best-seller. Thanks to HarperCollins' able publicity machine and Gingrich's genius as a self-promoter, that's likely. Armey, on the other hand, stands to gain little. He took no advance and is donating all proceeds to charities, such as the Special Olympics. And if you are seeking hot political rhetoric for a summertime diversion, his is the better book.BY RICK DUNHAM