Special Edition: Warthogs, Detroit and the American Future

I had an amazing thing happen to me at Walt Disney World on Wednesday. I became a warthog. It may have changed my life.

Courtesy of our two grandchildren (Maggie, age seven, and Robert just turned six last Sunday), we were attending the Lion King Celebration in the Animal Kingdom.

With my gray hair I seem to stand out in a lot of places, and when the entertainers began getting audience participation at the beginning of the show, I got picked to be one of the animals.

There were four animal groups — the elephants, the lions, the giraffes and the warthogs.

Given my history as a lifelong Republican, you would have guessed that I would have been picked to represent the elephants.

However, by luck of our seating, we were assigned to the warthog rooting section.

Suddenly, there I was, standing in front of 1,000 people, being told to put my fingers up by my mouth to be warthog tusks and to make a warthog sound (which is a lot like a pig, so there I was snorting). The entertainer was highly entertained, the crowd was enthusiastic, our grandchildren were ecstatic, Callista was busy taking pictures and my daughter Jackie was taking notes for her next column.

When Greta Van Susteren heard the warthog story, she e-mailed me, begging for video.

While this was a happy grandfatherly adventure (and the Lion King show was energetic and entertaining as always), I decided, after sleeping on it for a night, that there was something deeply symbolic about my role as a warthog rather than an elephant.

The time has come for us to have a deep conversation about donkeys and elephants and the future of America. Maybe having that conversation from the warthog rooting gallery is a pretty good place to start.

The need for this tough-minded, honest conversation has been driven home to me over the last three days after watching the reactions to my comments about Detroit on Chris Wallace’s “Fox News Sunday.”

On that show, I had singled out the Detroit school system as a disaster that is crippling younger Americans. The Detroit school system graduated 22% of its entering freshman on time, according to a report funded by the Gates Foundation. In a more recent report, that number improved to about 25%. This means 75% of the entering freshman were being cheated.

This means that three out of every four young people in Detroit were being denied the opportunity by the Detroit public schools to participate in the information age and get world-class jobs.

The true human tragedy is that an African-American male who drops out of high school faces a 72% unemployment rate in his 20s and a 60% possibility of going to jail by his mid-30s.

The failure of large, expensive, unionized, bureaucratic systems is a threat to our young people, to our communities and to our country.

The crisis is not one of money.

The crisis is a failure of responsibility, accountability, honesty and determination to protect the children from the bureaucracies that are crippling their lives.

The crisis is a simple failure of citizenship.

The Detroit bureaucratic school system is expensive and large — it is the largest single employer in the city of Detroit (the city government is the second-largest employer).

The policies of Detroit have driven it from 1,800,000 people in 1950 to decline to 950,000 people today.

Detroit was the highest median income in America in 1950 of major cities. Today it has declined to 61st in median income.

In both population and relative income, Detroit is a case study in policy failure.

Employment in Detroit, 1940-2000

Detroit: 1950 vs. Today

*Using 2000 U.S. Census figures


The iron grip of bad government continues to cripple the city. As one study points out: Of the city’s 25 biggest employers, state, county and city governments provide 40% of jobs.

The city of Detroit has a ratio of residents per city employee of 50. Compare this to 68 for Chicago, 78 for Houston, 108 for Los Angeles and 223 for Indianapolis [“Privatization: The Motor City’s Renaissance Engine,” Michael LaFaive, Winter, 2001, Mackinac Center for Public Policy].

The tragedy of our elephant versus donkey model of politics and our red versus blue mentality of polarization is that no one can think and speak creatively about turning around Detroit and Michigan (the state hit hardest economically, except for Louisiana because of the Hurricane Katrina).

Democrats can’t talk creatively about replacing government failure with models that work because their power base is largely the very unionized bureaucracies that need to change and their ideological base is the big-government, regulatory, high-tax model that is failing.

Republicans can’t talk creatively about replacing government failure with a model that will work because they regard Detroit as a blue area and therefore not of concern to them. Furthermore, they have a political and governmental doctrine that blocks creative thought in favor of fundraisers, focus groups and high paid consultants who think only of technique and never of historic duty.

Both parties are failing America.

The Republicans are closer to reality in their core doctrines of lower taxes, more entrepreneurship, more private sector job creation and strength in national security.

However, the Republicans refuse to think deeply enough about the performance failures of six years of Republican attempts at governing. They also refuse to invest the energy necessary to understand the Detroits and the Michigans and to create a believable dialogue with people who have been badly served by Democrats but deeply distrust Republicans.

The Democrats see themselves winning because of Republican performance failures, so they have no incentive to offend their own allies by representing the people against the governments that fail.

The result is government of the government, government by the government and government for the government.

This is the opposite of President Lincoln’s great Gettysburg address with its appeal for government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to write in more depth about the failure of the Republican doctrine for politics and government and the need for fundamental change in both the Democratic and Republican Parties.

I began outlining some of these changes in a six-hour briefing that is posted at on moving government back from the world that fails to the world that works.

In the next few weeks in this newsletter, I am going to apply that model to both the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Nothing less than the future of America as a successful society is at stake. That’s why I’ve created American Solutions for Winning the Future. I hope you will get involved by signing up to participate or lead an American Solutions workshop in your area. Go to today.

Newt Gingrich

P.S. — Thank you for telling your friends about “FedEx Versus Federal Bureaucracy” at YouTube. It has now passed 800,000 viewings and is gaining momentum.

Also, thank you for telling your friends about Pearl Harbor, our novel about a surprise attack in 1941 and the reminder that we must be vigilant in national security or face terrible consequences.

P.P.S. — We will be at Ames, Iowa, on August 11 with a series of American Solutions workshops on exciting topics, and the video from each workshop will be posted on