Day By Day

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Rising of the Newt?

According to the AP Newt Gingrich is thinking about running for President in 2008. I don't think that's very likely -- he has far too much baggage -- but speculation will keep him in the news and boost his speaking fees. Still, he's worth listening to; he is promoting a lot of interesting ideas. Listen:

"Modern government essentially is an 1880 male clerk on a wooden high stool with a quill pen being dipped into an open ink well, modernized by a 1935 bureaucracy using a manual typewriter to type on carbon paper," Gingrich told a Statehouse audience. "It is literally incapable of keeping up with the modern world."

A modern world, he said, in which most people carry cell phones that take photos, shipping companies are more efficient than government and gas pumps are considered so smart that most people don't even take credit card receipts after filling up.

His criticism bordered on ridicule, saying illegal immigrants have better tools than the officials looking for them.

"Everybody coming across the border is using a cell phone and blackberry (communication device) to figure out how to get across and everybody trying to stop them uses carbon paper," said Gingrich....

Well, perhaps the contrast is not that great, but speakers do engage in hyperbole to get their point across, and the essential point is a valid one. In terms of its organization, its technology, and its personnel, the executive branch of our government is woefully out of date. In department after department, the INS, FEMA, Internal Revenue... the list could go on and on, inefficiency runs rampant. Some might argue that inefficient government is good government, and to an extent I am sympathetic to that argument, but there is certainly a lot of room for improvement.

One area Gingrich identifies as drastically needing overhaul is health care.

His health plan calls for Americans to be able to store and refer to health records online, setting up personal savings and reimbursement accounts, and changing prescription insurance coverage.

Gingrich urged New Hampshire to set up a state or regional drug purchasing cooperative, run similar to online services for booking flights or hotel rooms. A patient would call up a computer screen showing all the medicine available for the ailment, with the prices.

He suggested switching copayment plans so patients pay after buying medicine. Copayments, he suggested, are a hurdle to buying medicine and give patients an incentive to buy expensive drugs, because they pay the same either way.

A plan in which the state pays for the least expensive prescription drug for state employees would allow for savings, he said, especially if employees were allowed to buy cheaper medicine and have half the savings go into their reimbursement or health savings accounts.

Now this is interesting and worth exploring further. The failure of "Hillarycare" has spooked most politicians away from proposals to improve health care, but it is a major concern of the American people and it will have to be addressed soon. I give Gingrich high marks for at least throwing out some ideas.

And as for politics:

He also called for major political changes, including having early campaign events in New Hampshire and Iowa involve all parties.

"If I can get all the Republicans in the room, I can say amazingly mean, vicious and nasty things and all of my partisans are excited," he said, and the Democrats can do the same.

"You maximize the poison in the system," he said. With audiences of Republicans, Democrats, independents and others "you cannot sustain the viciousness" and candidates will talk about real problems.

He also would dump presidential debates in favor of having candidates "sit on a stage and chat for 90 minutes."

"Presidential debates are a Mickey Mouse exercise in memorizing junk the consultants design by looking at focus groups so you can try to guess what stupid question the media announcer is going to ask you, so for 90 seconds, you can parrot what you memorize," he said.

Again, he has identified a major problem that needs to be addressed. Today's political system is dominated by special interest groups and the TV networks, both of which have a strong interest in maximizing conflict. Newt's ideas are at least worthy of serious consideration, especially eliminating those horrid debates, but I doubt that they will be implemented.

Newt has always been something of a provocateur and that is his most valuable role these days. If a run for the Presidency, no matter how futile, is the best way to get his ideas into general circulation, then I say God Bless, and "Go for it!"

Read it here.

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