Friday, June 29, 2007

Professor Newt's New Ideas

June 29, 2007, 6:15 a.m.

State29 has asked my opinion about what he calls the "unfairness doctrine" of the FCC
(State29, "Who Decides What's Fair?" June 27, 2007), repealed by the agency but gaining renewed congressional interest -- and Republican opposition. I'm going to get to that the first slow news day that comes along. Meanwhile, . . .

Will Newt be the Gingrich Who Stole Christmas?

No, I've not been mesmerized by Newt Gingrich. And I don't even want to get into a discussion of the three specific proposals in the "American Solutions" sheet that was handed out. ("First, . . . English must be the language of government" and "every American must have the right to say 'one nation under God' . . .. Second, . . . move government from a fossilized unionized 1965 model [so as to create] space for more tax cuts. Third, . . . we have an obligation . . . to defeat our enemies. . . .")

Here's some of my reaction. If you want a virtual transcript of the event (11:30-1:30, June 28, Quality Inn, Iowa City), as usual see the John Deeth Blog, "Newt Gingrich Live in Iowa City," June 28, 2007.

My own photos of the event are on my Picasa site.

The morning newspapers' coverage includes Rachel Gallegos, "Gingrich Urges Moving Beyond Party Lines in Iowa City Visit," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 29, 2007; James Q. Lynch, "Gingrich Unveils Plan for American Solutions; Ex-House Speaker Urges Bipartisan Effort," The Gazette, June 29, 2007, p. B5; and Christopher Patton, "Newt Touts New Way," The Daily Iowan, June 29, 2007.

Gingrich wasn't going for applause lines and didn't have many. Most of the applause provided by his predominantly Republican audience (the event was organized by the Johnson County Republicans after all) followed the occasional references to keeping immigrants out, winning wars and tax cuts.

And I guess I was wondering why, if you really want to organize a bi-partisan, tri-partisan, or non-partisan movement, you would have meetings organized by a single political party. Why not issue invitations to the leadership of all political parties -- and other related organizations -- in the area where workshops are held? Why not include some of those 511,000 elected public officials he talks about? As it is, American Solutions comes across as what might be interpreted as simply a way to expand the base of the present Republican Party, to attract more supporters of its platforms and proposals. But, hey, I guess you start where you are.

His rhetoric of process is encouraging. There are not "red states" and "blue states," he says, just "red, white and blue states." (I don't think he would have stolen that from Barack Obama, but he has a similar line.) Gingrich says he is involving all the presidential candidates in American Solutions; that these are challenges we need to work on as Americans, not as Democrats and Republicans.

So putting aside the substance that's likely to come out of his effort, and the possible presidential campaign (or Republican Party membership building) that's behind it, I think the model, the proposed process, is something that every American should find at least intriguing -- if not actually something worth their participation.

There were at least five Democrats present. We agreed the Republicans really know how to organize these things. For one thing, they feed you. Broccoli, no less. Healthy food. And they have a staffer to print your name and coordinates, to make sure they are legible on their list and your name tag (so Newt can call you by name).

As I commented to one Democrat, "You know, we talk about feeding the poor, but you have to come to a Republican event to get free food." He responded, "Hey, I'm going to get fed at a Democratic affair tonight actually." He paused a beat, reflected, and then added, "Of course, I have to bring the food. It's a pot luck."

I decided to get into the spirit of the thing and go the whole nine yards. One of the opening highlights of the event was the opportunity to get photographed with The Speaker and entered into the organization's data base. It reminded me of the receiving lines at the White House when President and Mrs. Johnson would patiently shake hands with each guest at a dinner or bill signing. So I said to him, "Mr. Speaker, is this the way we're going to be doing it at the White House?" And he said . . . no, I guess it wouldn't be right of me to reveal that. He probably deserves to pick his own time and place for any announcement.

During his presentation the analysis went somethng like this. There's "the world that works" and "the world that fails." The world that works is, of course, the marketplace. And "the world that fails"? That's right, the government. (And no, I didn't ask him how Haliburton fits into that model.)

As one example of his stories and illustrations, he asks how many people have ever tracked a package on UPS. Most hands go up. (I was tracking two at the time myself.) He points out that UPS and FedEx can track the exact location of millions of packages in real time -- while they are moving.

And then the contrast -- meanwhile, the government can't even locate immigrants who are not in motion. They're sitting still. "How can there be such a gap between the methods and technological applications in the private sector and the government?" he asks. "Should we perhaps just send each immigrant a package?"

He speaks of the need for "metrics" in our schools (what John Carver calls "ends policies," and most folks would call "measurable goals") without mentioning "No Child Left Behind." It kind of reminded me of the question I used to put to my school board colleagues: "How would we know if we'd ever been successful?" So I couldn't disagree with him on that one.

What can we do? We need to take the best of Drucker, Demming and Toyota and apply it to government.

Government needs to offer its "customers" what entrepreneurs have to: more choice, cheaper prices, and greater convenience.

He points out that much more than the presidency is involved. There are, he says, 511,000 elected officials in the United States, counting everyone from school board members to members of Congress. All areas of government can do better, and all need to be involved in his process.

And to make sure they are, he wants to create advisory committees for each unit of government, at least half the members of each to come from professions, businesses or other organizations that are actually applying the most efficient and innovative techniques, models and best practices.

And what all of us, together, should be looking for are, as he's named the organization, "American Solutions." To involve the American people most broadly, American Solution utilizes a Web site and the Internet, workshops, house parties, live and streaming video, and so forth. He's thinking of using the Wikipedia model to create a "SolutionsWiki" to which everyone can enter their suggestions.

Hey, look, after what I wrote about "The Question" that I put to presidential candidates ("Gov. Richardson & 'The Question'"), how can I disagree with that? Speaker Gingrich is actually not just providing a sort of answer to my question, he's actually organizing an effort to demonstrate what that answer might look like. I think the more public involvement the better. It's a variation on creating what Ralph Nader refers to as "the public citizen."

At a minimum, you might want to check out And then? You're own your own; assumption of risk.

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story . . .

This blog began in June 2006 and has addressed, and continues to addresses, a number of public policy, political, media, education, economic development, and other issues -- not just the UI presidential search. But that is the subject to which most attention has been focused in blog entries between November 2006 and June 2007.

The presidential search blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006. They end with Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 505 - Next (Now This) Week," June 10, 2007 (100-plus pages printed; a single blog entry for the events of June 10-21 ("Day 516"), plus over 150 attached comments from readers), and Nicholas Johnson, "UI Hostages Free At Last -- Habemas Mamam!," June 22, 2007.

Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.)

For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to will take you to the latest. Each entry related to the UI presidential search contains links to the full text of virtually all known, non-repetitive media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006.

My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006.

Searching: the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References." A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

re: Newt
Perhaps more than any other politician he is responsible for branding anybody who advocates any regulation of the market as a socialist. As a result market absolutism is now the new normal.
I don't see how you can review his appearance here without pointing that out.
So it has to be spelled out; markets can do amazing things and they fail spectacularly at doing other things. Markets will tend toward corruption, monopoly and cartels without regulation. Markets work best when they are well regulated to insure competition and prevent corruption of government.
This is the hardest task of government because we expect government to produce certainty; to protect us from calamity and make the trains run on time. But regulating markets means enforcing the uncertainty of competitive markets. That uncertainty motivates businesses to create efficiencies and innovations that benefit society as a whole. Any businessman would prefer a monopoly to a competitive market.
It is obvious to me that the Abramoff and Cunningham scandals, which we have yet to get to the bottom of, are the result of Republicans being pro-business to the point of anti-competitive. Newt, along with libertarians of all stripes have perfected the rhetoric of market absolutism to the point that any regulation of markets is considered beyond the pale.
A sane middle road of the proper level of market regulation used to be common sense. But now Democrats are so afraid of being called socialist that even they can not be trusted to level the playing field.