Thursday, December 15, 2011

The two sides of Newt

Blankley captured the memories that conservatives have of why we liked Gingrich back in the 1990s.

But then there's the other side of Newt that has troubled me. Rich Lowry does a good job of portraying the problems with the two sides of Newt.
The New Newt says he’s 68 years old and therefore has mellowed and matured. He was 65 years and a few months old when he opposed TARP and then supported it. He was still just 67 years old when he criticized President Obama for not instituting a no-fly zone over Libya and then criticized him for doing it. He was on the cusp of 68 when he denounced Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform as “right-wing social engineering,” before contorting himself to explain it away.

We should all envy Newt Gingrich’s vitality that he has been capable of such youthful indiscretions in his mid to late 60s. The Gingrich story is less the tale of a slow evolution toward steadiness and wisdom than the fable of the scorpion and the frog. The scorpion stung the frog as it hitched a ride across the river because it couldn’t help itself. Newt is intellectually frenetic by nature. He’ll be 105 and wildly contradicting himself from one day to the next as he indulges his latest enthusiasms.

There’s something tremendously invigorating about this. They called Lincoln “old” when he was in his 30s, a testament to his gravity. Newt feels young even though he’s about as old as Ronald Reagan when he ran in 1980. If Franklin Roosevelt was like a bottle of champagne, according to Winston Churchill, Gingrich is like a snort of helium.

His volatility makes it impossible to make any statement about him as a general-election candidate with assurance. Will he enthuse the Republican base? Yes, right up to the moment he stops enthusing it with some jarring provocation. Will he beat President Obama in the debates? Yes, right up until he makes an ill-tempered comment that washes away all his impressive knowledge and brilliant formulations. Will he be the bipartisan healer, the partisan bomb-thrower, or the post-partisan big thinker? Yes, yes, and yes.

All that is predictable about Newt is that he is unpredictable, and, irresistibly, an election that should be about President Obama and his record will become about the heat and light generated by his electric performance. That’s the way it was as speaker, too. Eventually, he wore out his welcome in epic fashion. Benjamin Franklin said any houseguest, like a fish, stinks after three days. With the public and his colleagues, Gingrich became the houseguest who would never leave.

More than a decade after he was cashiered as speaker, he’s back on the basis of his superlative handling of the debates. He is better informed and has more philosophical depth than any of his rivals. Despite all his meanderings through the years, he knows how to win over a conservative audience as well as anyone. The debates have held out the alluring promise of a New Newt. But beware: The Old Newt lurks.
One example of the "bad Newt" that bugged me was his off-the-cuff criticism of Romney's experience at Bain Capital. It wasn't that Newt criticized Romney, but that he chose to use the left's tired approach chastising Romney for having sometimes had to lay people off in order to remake companies. George Will chastises Newt for his remarks.
This departure from his pledge that his campaign “will be relentlessly positive” represents the virtue of recycling applied to politics. Gingrich is reusing the attack honed by Ted Kennedy in 1994, when Romney suffered a 17-point loss in attempting to take Kennedy’s Senate seat.

The Kennedy-Gingrich doctrine is this: What the economist Joseph Schumpeter called capitalism’s “creative destruction” is not really creative. Rather, it is lamentable and, when facilitated by capitalists, reprehensible. For Kennedy, this made sense: Reactionary liberalism holds that whatever is, from Social Security to farm subsidies to the Chrysler Corp., should forever be. But Gingrich is supposedly our infallible guide to the sunny uplands of a dynamic future.
Will then contrasts Gingrich's own rhetoric with what Romney was doing in his career.
Gingrich has three verbal tics which, taken together — and they usually come in clumps — signal his depth and seriousness. Deploying his three F words, he announces his unique candor by prefacing this or that pronouncement with the word “frankly.” What he frankly says is that “fundamental” change is necessary for America. He knows this because he sees over the horizon, into a “future” requiring “transformational” (Gingrich’s self-description) leadership.

Romney, while at Bain, performed the essential social function of connecting investment resources with opportunities. Firms such as Bain are indispensable for wealth creation, which often involves taking over badly run companies, shedding dead weight and thereby liberating remaining elements that add value. The process, like surgery, can be lifesaving. And like surgery, society would rather benefit from it than watch it.

Romney surely anticipated that such an attack would come — but from Democrats, in the general election, not from a volatile Republican. He now understands Rep. Paul Ryan’s response when Gingrich attacked his entitlement reform as “right-wing social engineering.” Said Ryan: “With allies like that, who needs the left?”

Intra-party competitions are supposed to reveal candidates’ potential susceptibilities to attacks. Two unfair attacks against Romney concern his polish and his past. Four years ago, Mike Huckabee, targeting Romney without mentioning him, slyly said, “I want to be a president who reminds you of the guy you work with, not the guy who laid you off.” And there is a photograph of Romney that will eventually be seen far and wide (and can be seen at It shows a young Romney and six Bain colleagues feeling their oats, with paper currency protruding from their dark suits. The young men are overflowing with what John Maynard Keynes called “animal spirits.”

We should welcome such spirits and should hope for political leadership that will hasten the day when American conditions are again receptive to them. Until then, economic dynamism will not return. We should not expect Gingrich to understand this until he understands that his work for Freddie Mac was not, as he laughably insists, in “the private sector.”

He probably believes that. He seems to believe there is always some higher synthesis, inaccessible to lesser intellects, that makes all his contradictions disappear. One awaits the synthesizing of his multicity tour in 2009 with Barack Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, and Al Sharpton promoting “a common education reform” of primary and secondary schools.

But if you don't like his position one day, just wait; we're sure to hear another one down the road. Look at these switcheroos that he's pulled on foreign policy.

"Exercise a no-fly zone this evening, communicate to the Libyan military that Qaddafi was gone and that the sooner they switch sides, the more like they were to survive, [and provide] help to the rebels to replace him.... This is a moment to get rid of him. Do it. Get it over with." - March 7, 2011

"I would not have intervened. I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Qaddafi. I think there are a lot of other allies in the region we could have worked with. I would not have used American and European forces." - March 23, 2011

Gingrich initially opposed using military force in Libya, arguing in late February that if the United States simply made it clear to the Libyan military that "they had friends" in America, "you'd be surprised how rapidly they would shift sides" and "replace Qaddafi." He called for the United States to unilaterally impose a no-fly zone over Libya days later, only to criticize President Obama's intervention weeks after that. Gingrich rejected claims that he'd flip-flopped, explaining that what he opposed was the White House scuttling non-military options by declaring that Qaddafi must "go," only to then predicate the intervention on "humanitarian" grounds rather than the removal of Qaddafi.
Go read the other examples. He's such a wide-thinking sort of guy that he encompasses multitudes within himself. Romney is also a flip-flopper. They both are. It's very discouraging.

And now Paul Ryan has come out in an interview responding to Gingrich's advice that Republicans not try to go to far out ahead of public opinion in reforming entitlements.
In an interview with Coffee & Markets, Gingrich said that Republicans should not “impose” solutions that are “very, very unpopular.” Ronald Reagan, he noted, “ran to be a popular president, not to maximize suicide.”

In order to “govern over the long run,” leaders need “the American people [to] think you’re doing a good job and think you’re doing what they want,” he continued.

Ryan, in an interview with National Review Online, says that he disagrees with Gingrich, and urges Republicans to confront fiscal problems, irrespective of political risk. Worrying about electoral “suicide,” he says, is a disservice to voters, “who don’t want to be pandered to like children.”

“This is not the 1990s,” Ryan says. “The ‘Mediscare’ is not working and we should not back down from this fight. I, for one, believe the country is ready, they’re hungry for it. They are ready to hear real solutions. We shouldn’t wait around for the status quo to become popular.”

“Leaders don’t follow the polls, leaders change the polls,” Ryan says. “We have moved so far in advancing entitlement reform, not just in Congress but in this [presidential] race, with most of the candidates embracing comprehensive entitlement reform. That has been a very good thing. At this point, we should be moving forward, not moving backwards.”
So we have the visionary Newt Gingrich who, supposedly, wants to be a transformational figure and yet he's backing away from attacking the biggest problem facing our fiscal future. Not quite the image of Gingrich that he's been trying to get out there, is it?

Oh, why did Ryan shy away from running? Every time I hear or read something he's written I'm impressed that he's the very best in explaining what our problems are and what needs to be done. I'm not like one of the Weekly Standard die-hards who are still hoping that someone like Ryan will still jump into the race or that we'll have a deadlocked convention when we can erase the memories of all these disappointing candidates by turning to Ryan. I'm just so depressed that, at this crucial moment, we have such lackluster and disappointing candidates.