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What Gingrich Skipped in His Guru’s Bible : Toffler’s futurist views of minority power and globalism refute the conservative agenda.

<i> Robert L. Borosage is director of the Campaign for New Priorities and a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, Washington. </i>

House Speaker Newt Gingrich startled members of the Ways and Means Committee when he instructed them to judge each proposal by whether “it will help America move into the Third Wave information society of the 21st Century.”

Gingrich was invoking his favorite guru, futurist Alvin Toffler, the author of “The Third Wave,” subtitled a “Classic Study of Tomorrow,” which is at the top of his reading list for conservative legislators.

Toffler’s well-packaged 1980 melange of pulp sociology, pop culture and hot facts provides the Speaker with many of his ideas and much of his language about the Information Age transforming America. But Gingrich is very selective in what he draws from Toffler.

Toffler’s “blue sky” ideas inspire Gingrich’s moonbeam oddities, such as his attempt, as a young congressman from suburban Atlanta, to legislate immediate statehood for space colonies. Last week, Gingrich suggested that the poorest Americans might be given a “tax break for the purchase of laptop computers.” With Republicans intent on pushing millions of working families off food stamps, this sounded a bit like the Information Age version of the advice attributed to Marie Antoinette--let them eat megabytes.

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Yet Gingrich ignores his mentor’s writings on the principles for government in the Information Age. For Toffler, the first principle is “minority power,” for “it is not majorities but minorities that count.” The essence of the Information Age is demassification--from mass to boutique production, from broadcasting to narrow-casting, from mass culture to multicultures, from the nuclear family to diverse ways of living and from majority rule to minority power.

Toffler suggests that we “de-rig our voting laws to eliminate anti-minority biases,” using devices like weighted or cumulative voting to empower minorities. He makes Lani Guinier, whose speculations about voting reforms led conservatives to savage her nomination as assistant attorney general for civil rights, look timid in comparison.

To Toffler, conservatives who claim a mandate from middle Americans are kidding themselves, merely “cloaking their anti-minority policies in the mantle of a mythical rather than real majority.” And conservatives who defend the traditional nuclear family are as ossified as liberals who protect centralized bureaucracies.

A second Toffler principle for 21st-Century government is “decision division,” dividing up decisions and putting them at the level--local, regional, international--they belong. Toffler’s central example is that national governments cannot deal with the “power of the transnational corporation,” particularly when it comes to protecting the environment. He proposes rafts of new international arrangements to establish and enforce “codes of corporate conduct on the global level.” He calls for global stockpiles of food, global control of the arms trade, better regulation to control currencies, transnational agencies to govern the oceans and space and rebuilding the United Nations from the ground up.

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Gingrich and his conservatives find international regulation and institutions inherently suspect. They scorn any attempt to build labor or environmental standards into international trade accords. It took significant pressure from wealthy campaign contributors to keep conservatives from torpedoing the recent GATT treaty because of its World Trade Organization, a toothless structure that will be dominated by corporate experts.

Gingrich has embraced some part of Toffler’s third principle, “semi-direct democracy,” particularly his view of national parliaments as relics of a bygone age. Of course, that was before he became Speaker of the very House of Representatives that he reviled for so many years. An early indication of the effect of his new power on his old precepts is that he now travels with a congressional car and driver, a practice he previously mocked as symbolic of an arrogant leadership out of touch with ordinary Americans.

To frame his agenda, Gingrich turns to “corporate psychotherapist” Morris Shechtman’s “Working Without a Net,” which argues that we must learn to build our own safety nets in an insecure world. That is the essence of the Republican “contract with America.” At a time when corporations no longer provide workers with secure jobs, health insurance and pensions, conservatives say government can’t help: In navigating the sweeping changes and disruptions of the new global economy, you are on your own.

Once voters understand that this is what Gingrich is about, progressives may ride the Third Wave into office while conservatives experience insecure, short-term employment for themselves.

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