Why We Need a 21st Century 'Contract With America'

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. --President Abraham Lincoln, Message to Congress, December, 1862

This quote from Abraham Lincoln is appropriate because the crisis we face is deeper and broader than any crisis since the 1860s.

The 2012 election is not a political election in any normal sense of ambitious people competing for power within an accepted framework of values and principles.

It is an historic election in which the outcome will potentially change the nature of America for generations to come.

No simple set of slogans or “jobs programs” or poll driven gimmicks will meet the needs of America in 2012.

Consider the realities of our time.

America is dramatically and frighteningly on the wrong track, we are facing:

• deep and persistent unemployment;

• a deeper drop in housing prices than in the Great Depression;

• an anti-American energy policy that kills jobs, endangers our national security and sends $400 billion plus overseas every year thus weakening the dollar and the economy;

• a tax, regulatory, and litigation system that is killing American manufacturing and putting our national security at risk as we rely more and more on foreign countries for manufactured goods;

• enormous government deficits on a scale unimagined and unsustainable;

• Washington bureaucracies that dictate destructive policies and treat us as subjects rather than citizens;

• a regulatory-litigation bureaucratic system which makes it virtually impossible for our government to be effective or agile or even just competent;

• schools that no longer teach American history and generally fail to prepare young Americans for either citizenship or work (leading to a Nation at Risk, as the Reagan Administration described the effect of our schools 28 years ago and it is worse now);

• increasingly radical judges who impose anti-American values on the American people in a repetition of the British tyrannical judges who were the second most frequently cited complaint of the American colonists;

• a radical elite which has contempt for the American people, sympathy for America’s enemies, and overt hostility to American values and which dominates the universities, the news rooms, and increasingly the bureaucracies and the courts.

Three large facts come from these ten specific challenges to the survival of America as the freest, most prosperous, and safest country in the world:

1. No single, narrow solution can meet our challenges. These problems are so pervasive and so widespread that only a comprehensive strategy can break through and force the changes needed for America’s survival as a free, prosperous, safe country based on the principles of the Founding Fathers.

2. The combined forces of the elites—in the news media, the government employee unions, the bureaucracies, the courts, the academic world, and in public office—will fight bitterly and ruthlessly to protect their world from being changed by the American people.

3. Therefore any election victory in 2012 will be the beginning and not the end of the struggle. It will take eight years or more of relentless, determined, intelligent effort to uproot and change the system of the elites—laws, bureaucracies, courts, schools-- and replace it with laws and systems based on historic American values and policies.

The scale of the challenge and the intensity of the opposition require that we approach a 21st Century Contract with America with a much more profound and serious strategy than the original 1994 Contract with America.

The 21st Century Contract with America will therefore be much larger than the original, and will consist of four parts.

• A set of legislative proposals to shift America back to job creation, prosperity, freedom, and safety;

• A “First Day” project of Executive Orders to be signed on inauguration day to immediately transform the way the executive branch works;

• A training program for the transition teams and the appointees who will lead the shift back to Constitutional, limited government;
• A system of citizen involvement to help us sustain grassroots support for change and help implement the change through 2021.

The center of activity for these four components exists at www.newt.org/contract.

The first test of the 21st Contract has to be its effectiveness. Assuming its implementation as outlined, does the Contract include everything that is required to put America back on the right track.

The second test of the 21st Century Contract has to be its potential for popular support.

Putting America back on the right track will be an enormous, protracted struggle with entrenched elites. The American people have to decide that the struggle is legitimate and necessary and that they are determined that the elites will be defeated and their laws and systems will be replaced.

We have had seven decisive changes in American history (Founding Fathers, the Federalists, the Jeffersonians, the Jacksonians, the Lincoln Republicans, the Progressives, and the New Deal). Each has involved a deep intense struggle. In each case it took the will of the American people expressed at the ballot box to impose change on a hostile, entrenched, reactionary elite. In each case the struggle lasted for years and required flexibility and innovation from the reforming side.

The primary purpose of the 21st Century Contract with America is to lay out the scale of change that is necessary and give the American people profound reasons to believe that with courageous, systematic effort we can get America back on the right track.

The secondary purpose of the 21st Century Contract with America is to create a general management guidance so that everyone who wants to know where we are going and what we are trying to achieve will have a clear sense of purpose and definition.


There are three primary differences between the 21st Century Contract with America and the original 1994 Contract with America:

1. Since the problems today are much bigger and the institutions have grown even more elitist, the Contract has to be much bigger and more fundamental in the changes it proposes;

2. The 1994 Contract grew out of Reagan’s philosophy and could be presented as a completed document but the 21st Century Contract is based on Lincoln’s principle that “As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.” Therefore the new contract has to be a work in progress which will be developed over the next year and finally unveiled in a completed form on September 27, 2012. The other reason for a more participatory, developmental approach is that after the secretly drafted stimulus and the secretly drafted Obamacare the American people are tired of imposed solutions they don’t understand and haven’t helped develop;

3. Because the 21st Century Contract calls for dramatically broader and deeper change, it requires much more emphasis on implementation and so three of the four areas of the Contract (Executive Orders on the First Day, training for appointees, a citizen based movement to insist on implementation and to help monitor implementation for eight years).


There are three primary similarities between the 21st Century Contract with America and the original 1994 Contract with America:

1. Both contracts are premised on the belief that a successful turnaround in the direction of our country is possible. When I was sworn in as the first Republican Speaker of the House in forty years in January 1995, the Congressional Budget Office projected that over the next decade the cumulative federal budget deficits would total $2.7 trillion. Shortly after I left office in January 1999, CBO projected that over the next decade that federal surpluses would total over $2.2 trillion– a four-year turnaround in the fiscal outlook of the United States of nearly $5 trillion. A comparable four-year improvement in the U.S fiscal outlook today would total over $8 trillion (as % of GDP).

2. Both contracts are premised on the belief that a successful national turnaround begins with profound policy turnaround. The 1994 Contract focused on balanced budgets, welfare reform, and controlled spending. The result was 11 million new jobs, four balanced budgets, welfare reform, and paying down of over $400 billion in national debt.

3. Both contracts are premised on the belief that a policy turnaround is only possible when the American people are presented during a political campaign with a clear set of choices -- and persuasive reasons why the country should move in a particular direction -- which they then endorse on Election Day.


It is because of the very scale, seriousness, and intensity of the historic mission before the American people that I never ask people to be for me.

When people are for a candidate they vote and then go home expecting the candidate to get the job done.

The American Constitution does not give any leader the ability to impose this much change.

This kind of change only occurs when the American people are fully mobilized and focused on insisting that their elected officials follow through and get the job done.

Furthermore, the American people will have to monitor implementation and help us identify when things aren’t working right. They will also have to help come up with better solutions when the first set sometimes fail to get the job done.

No one person can achieve change on this scale but millions of mobilized citizens can.

Finally, as we enforce the Tenth Amendment and shrink the Washington bureaucracy and return power to the states, citizens will have to rise and fill the gap left by the decline of bureaucracies.

For all these reasons I ask people to be with me for the next eight year in implementing the 21st Century Contract with America. Please join me at www.newt.org/contract.

Newt Gingrich, who was Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999, is a candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.