In 1974 at age 31, an assistant history professor at West Georgia College decided to try his hand at politics. Make that elective politics. The young PhD in modern European history had already been active in teaching political history. He knew the landscape, both ancient and modern, of the Western world and held strong views about what would keep the Western world free and what would not. His run for Congress in 1974 was but a natural, predictable step in realizing his vision for the nation.
Good teachers are learners. They like to tell others what they have learned. Good teachers are often restless. There’s so much their young charges need to know, and often that knowledge beckons even the teacher to some sort of action. Such was the case, or so it appears, with Professor Gingrich. Teaching alone could not satisfy. If 40 years of Democratic rule in the U.S. House of Representatives wasn’t cutting the mustard, it was time to teach via action.
For Professor Newton Leroy Gingrich, or just Newt as both friends and foes now call him, the foray into elective politics began in 1974 when he ran for Congress against an established Democrat in Georgia’s 6th District. Newt lost. He lost again in 1976. In 1978 his election to the House began an 18-year career in national politics. His backbencher status would ultimately become first tier, given his election to speaker in 1995.
Brash, smart, and full of ideas about government and governing, Newt took conservatism seriously. From the start he desired and pressed for a Republican party that was aggressive and active. Eschewing the old saw that says the essence of conservatism is restraint, Newt led the Republicans with their Contract for America, a substantial document that promised and attained welfare reform. Falling short of its goal of term limits for Congress, the Contract for America still served as a rallying cry for conservatives and conservative government.
Newt’s stock rose. Orator, author, philosopher, historian, strategist and an effective political evangelist, Newt Gingrich became a household word in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, the state of Georgia, and the nation. The constant simmer between him and Georgia’s House Speaker foretold the day Tom Murphy would be defeated and Democratic control of Georgia would end. Newt’s skirmishes with his predecessor in the U.S. House, Speaker Jim Wright, showed conservatives that Republicans could fight and would fight, no longer content with being a nice, quiet minority. In 1994, Newt was Time magazine’s Man of the Year.
After Newt led the Republican takeover of the House, President Bill Clinton in his January 1996 State of the Union address acknowledged what had happened. Nearly the political genius Newt was, and knowing he was whipped, Clinton stated, “The era of big government is over.”
Well, we wish. Not only did the era of big government not end. It lingered and continues, else why is the swamp bigger and why does at least half of the nation’s voters support the presidential candidate who called the swamp creatures out?
Alas, why is Newt’s old district of northwest Atlanta/Cobb County turning purple? Why the fate of Karen Handel, Neil Warren, Mike Boyce, and others? For Cobb County government proper, conservatives cannot deny it was a blue wave. Expect higher property taxes.
There are many different reasons why candidates lose and they are not always ideological. Personality/likeability matters deeply as does single-issue voting. Yet, in recent Republican losses in Newt’s old territory something deeper is being revealed. It’s called the sweep of history.
“Now there arose a new king over Egypt who knew not Joseph,” the Exodus account puts it. Joseph, the Jew who had risen to Prime Minister of Egypt, had died. Despite his leadership, and the favor given to Jews, Joseph is now forgotten and the Jews in Egypt are being persecuted.
Newt Gingrich has fought the good fight for conservatism ever since his departure from Washington. But the 35-year-old voter of today was born in 1985. He or she knew not Reagan or Newt unless from personal reading, knowledgeable parents, or an astute American history teacher. Today’s 35-year-old has been brought up with the availability of conservative talk radio, but also with college history teachers, historians, and ubiquitous media stars who invariably bend left and religiously court our youths. “As the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined.”
Whoever wins the presidential election, Newt, Reagan, and Trump are all still alive. All three esteemed the common man and common sense. If conservatism and the common man are down in 2020, they’re still not out. History sweeps both ways. And freedom lovers will fight another day.