Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A devastating comparison

Victor Davis Hanson thinks that Newt Gingrich's biggest weakness will come from his advocacy for Freddie Mac and his lame explanation that he was hired to give advice as a historian. Yeah, sure. And Hanson dares to term Gingrich's obvious advocacy on behalf of Freddie Mac as "Daschleism."
But I think his biggest problem on this score was his mea culpa that he was not a consultant, but a “historian.” Is that laughable assertion supposed to be “candor”? If so, a historian would quickly have reviewed the record of Freddie and Fannie assets and liabilities, and then in quite dry fashion offered a conclusion that something was beginning to go quite wrong with these sorts of unaccountable, but costly, agencies.

But more to the point, there are literally hundreds of historians who deal in both economic and financial history and the history of U.S. government/private partnerships. Most such academics would probably have eagerly sought bids for consulting work at $30,000 a month (if it were open for bidding), done it far more cheaply, and stayed out of the politics of the agency’s funding. No one believes, then, that Freddie was looking for, or found, historical expertise.

Gingrich must know that he was hired, not because he was a better historian than his colleagues in the field, but to ensure bipartisan support from the conservative side for an agency that was starting to ring alarm bells about its very solvency, and indeed ethics. On his end, his stamp of approval would be aimed, in the manner of the later Pelosi global-warming ads, as a refreshing statesman-like embrace of a needed initiative that transcended politics; “home ownership,” after all, was often a conservative talking point about a larger “ownership” society. The lobbying was a win/win deal for both parties — as long as we think away a corrupt and near-insolvent agency paying huge sums to former politicians and political appointees without any banking experience: Review the compensation and quite immoral Fannie careers of those who, like a Franklin Raines ($90 million in aggregate Fannie income and bonuses), James A. Johnson ($200 million in aggregate Fannie income and bonuses), or Jamie Gorelick ($26 million-plus in aggregate Fannie income and bonuses), had no financial expertise, walked away with lots of money, left disasters in their wake, and were never really held to moral or legal account.

And that is the problem, is it not — that lobbying transcends politics, as liberal agencies court conservatives to pose as statesmen in their support, and more conservative bureaucracies sometimes seek out liberals who can pose as being “reasonable” — not for the idea of “reaching across the aisle,” but simply for profit.
It is quite common for members of Congress to leave office and then strike it rich selling their name and access to their former colleagues. No matter what Newt claims, that was what he was doing. And does that make him any different from Tom Daschle?

Gingrich has spent the past decade trying to win strange, new respect from the media and liberals by endorsing such liberal beliefs such as his appearance with Nancy Pelosi and palling around with Al Sharpton. That was what was behind his bashing of Paul Ryan's budget and Medicare reform plan earlier this year. He tried to pair criticism of Obama with criticism of Ryan in an attempt to appear above it all and the senior politician. Why did it take blowback from conservatives for Gingrich to back-peddle on those comments? Those comments were all part of his long attempt to win back the love of the elites.

Conservatives fear Romney's ideological squishiness and I don't disagree. I worry about the misjudgment that led Romney to support Romneycare in the first place. But I think that Romney can be held in check by conservatives in Congress. I think Gingrich (if he should by chance win the presidency, which I doubt) would take an impish delight in back-stabbing Congressional Republicans if he thought he had a great, futuristic-sounding idea that would also let him stroke elite soft spots and win plaudits from the press.

It astounds me that conservative voters have glommed onto Newt Gingrich to express their populist discontent with the tawdriness of Washington politics and Obamaism just because he comes across as a grandiose thinker in the debates. Much of that reputation came from his tangling with the journalists asking the questions. Great. Conservatives always love them some media-bashing, but Gingrich is going to have to do more than talk about how he's mellowed with age and grandchildren before I forget his performance as Speaker. And his transparent pretense that, for some reason, Freddie Mac need his experiences as a historian is a clear-cut demonstration that he has no defense for that item on his resume.