Newt Gingrich's most ardent fans -- as well as some of his most vicious critics -- often centered on his reputation as a candidate of ideas.
Some of Gingrich's far-out propositions, such as establishing a moon colony or requiring poor children to serve as mini-janitors at school, should properly perish with his campaign. But Gingrich had an approach to public participation in government that I hope Mitt Romney -- and maybe even Barack Obama -- will want to steal.
Gingrich regularly ended stump speeches calling for local leadership and public participation:
“I’m not going to ask you to be for me, because if you’re for me,
you’re going to vote, you’ll go home and say, ‘I sure hope Newt fixes
things,’” Gingrich said at a typical Iowa campaign appearance last December. “I can’t. No one person can fix this country.
Not even the president. It’s not how the country is designed. What I
will do is ask you to be with me for the next eight years.”
Gingrich's agenda, which he called his "Contract with America" included a pledge to see public feedback on policies. He said he would pursue his agenda through appropriate legislative channels -- not through shortcuts -- to gain public acceptance. He acknowledged that some of his ideas wouldn't work, and he wanted to be sure people had a means to point out problems.
Gingrich may have wanted to counter his reputation as an ego-driven personality or hook campaign volunteers. But he was also a professor at heart and wanted to impart a sense of citizenship. He was wise enough to realize that very little he wanted to do would work without the effort of people outside the Beltway. This is one lesson that should survive Gingrich's candidacy.