Newt Gingrich is a possible late entrant into the 2008 presidential race. Recently, at a National Press Club appearance, the former Speaker spoke critically about the process that ultimately chooses a candidate.
"We've invented a system where we've replaced big city machine bosses with consultant bosses. Read the newspaper coverage: ‘who's your pollster? What advertising firm did you hire? Who did you hire in Iowa? Who did you hire in South Carolina?' This is the new boss system. The job of the candidate is to raise the money to hire the consultants to do the focus groups to figure out the 30 second answers to be memorized by the candidates. This is stunningly dangerous."
Mr. Gingrich went on to talk about the debate system (which he refers to as auditions) that supposedly helps the voters to select the best person for the job.
"Then you combine the stultifying, exhausting, shrinking process with the way these auditions have occurred. These aren't debates! These are a cross between 'The Batchelor,' 'American Idol' and who's smarter than a fifth-grader."
Talking about "gotcha" politics, Gingrich said:
"Candidates are held to a rigidity standard, while their answers are held to a 30 second sound bite standard that is frankly absurd. ‘What's your answer on Iraq in 30 seconds? What's your answer on health care in 30 seconds.'"
The former Speaker was talking about the ludicrous and demeaning process by which we select the person that we hope will lead us into the future. The question is, if we make a circus out of the process and the candidates submit like trained seals, how can we respect their leadership abilities? If the best they can do is follow the lead of paid consultants, how in the world can they be qualified to lead America? Perhaps we should elect their consultants.
Gingrich proposes a solution:
"I believe that every candidate should be challenged to commit that if they are their party's nominee, that they would agree to meet once a week with their main opponent and the two of them would have a dialogue. There are 2 core premises: The first is that it has to be open ended; you should give the answer the length your answer should be; the second is, it should be focused on a series of large questions around which people would be expected to bring solutions. I think two things would happen. First, an amazing percentage of the American people would watch and in the age of the Internet, all the dialogue would be cached and people could go back to it, people would analyze it and take it apart and I think the candidates would grow and change. The American people would have a remarkable sense after nine, ninety minute conversations in their living rooms about the two personalities and which person they thought had the right ideas, the right character and the right capacity to be a leader."
Mr. Gingrich was saying what many Americans are probably thinking: that the current electoral system has become overly dependent on money and the ability of highly paid consultants to groom candidates and market them to the voters like breakfast cereal.
"The Founding Fathers did not invent this process for the enrichment of consultants or for the cynical maneuvering of those who seek power. They invented this process to enable the American people to determine who they would lend power to. And the process should start with; what is the kind of campaign the American people need in order to have the kind of country they deserve?"
Like Rush Limbaugh in his first best-seller, Mr. Gingrich was talking about the way things ought to be. Sadly, with his impeccable conservative credentials and proven leadership ability, the former mastermind of the "Contract with America," is currently but a blip on the presidential radar screen. Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. Email Bob