Editor's note: Newt Gingrich is a co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," which airs at 6:30 p.m. ET weekdays, and author of a new book, "Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America's Fate." A former speaker of the House, he was a candidate in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.
(CNN) -- The phrase "small soy latte liberalism" deserves to become the defining symbol of the failure of the Democratic Party.
The Starbucks reference came from New York's new mayor, Bill de Blasio. As his party's putative presidential front-runner and her husband looked on, de Blasio put the incoherence of the modern left on full display in his inaugural address Wednesday.
After a mayoral campaign which emphasized boldness, radicalism, populism and the "new Progressive" commitment to fighting income inequality, he revealed that after the rhetoric comes timidity, incoherence, and absurdity.
Mayor de Blasio promised to change New York City for the daily price of a small soy latte from Starbucks.
"We will ask the very wealthy to pay a little more in taxes so that we can offer full-day universal pre-K and after-school programs for every middle school student," he said. "And when we say 'a little more,' we can rightly emphasize the 'little.'"
"Those earning between $500,000 and $1 million a year," the new mayor continued, "...would see their taxes increase by an average of $973 a year. That's less than three bucks a day -- about the cost of a small soy latte at your local Starbucks."
It was sadly symbolic that Mayor de Blasio was speaking one week before the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's declaration of a "War on Poverty."
Look at the contrast between the mayor's reassurance about tiny sacrifices and Johnson's bold declaration in his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964.
"It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won," Johnson pledged. "The richest nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it."
Fifty years after the War on Poverty began, the boldest declaration our new champion of liberalism can muster is that his own expansion of the welfare bureaucracy will cost the New York elite no more than their daily dose of caffeine. Oh, how the price to ease their consciences has fallen in half a century. And yet the poor are still impoverished.
Here are the facts: After 50 years and trillions of dollars, bureaucratic government has lost the war on poverty. Each year, we spend $17,000 per person in poverty on means-tested welfare programs alone, as Peter Ferrara points out. That adds up to more than $16 trillion since 1965. Yet today, left-wing leaders like Mayor de Blasio and President Barack Obama still call inequality "the defining issue of our time." What does this say about their welfare bureaucracies?
Like Obama's small, recycled proposals to help poor Americans, de Blasio's "small soy latte" liberalism will grow bureaucracy and please bureaucratic unions but will not help win the war on poverty.
Their minor tinkering with the current welfare state will clearly fail, just as it has failed for decades, and yet minor tinkering is all that the chiefs of modern liberalism have to offer. As if to reassure us, they pledge that continuing the charade will cost just a little more.
Poor and disadvantaged Americans deserve a completely new approach to poverty -- one which has the courage to analyze the failures of the past 50 years. A focus on incentives, economic growth, and on helping the least well-off learn the skills they need to leave poverty would be a good start. Poor Americans need a fundamental break from a system which has trapped so many in dependency.
Ironically, de Blasio has done us all a favor by being so clear about the small, timid, and ultimately hopeless efforts to use big bureaucracies to solve the real problems of impoverished Americans. Let's say no to "small soy latte liberalism" and yes to profoundly rethinking the best way of helping our fellow citizens.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Newt Gingrich.