My computer crashed last night (literally, crashing to the floor, leading to the demise of the hard drive). I had part two almost written, but it is lost, alas. We can only assume it was brilliant enough to have solved the world’s problems and will be greatly missed.
In its absence, I will attempt to say what I think today would best conclude my Gingrich assessment. Some of the plan for today was to cover how conservatives feel about him.
Newt is a good communicator. He is comfortable in front of a microphone or a crowd. He needs no teleprompter, which is why some people imagine a Gingrinch-Obama debate with some relish. I’ve always liked listening to him explain things. Back in the 90s, when Hillary Clinton was trying to get the word out about nationalized health care, she would speak—loudly, tensely, painfully slowly, as if waiting for the echo to die down in a football stadium, or maybe as if to an auditorium of hearing impaired slow learners. Newt, on the other hand, would just talk. Fast, conversationally, as if involved in an intelligent conversation with an equally intelligent friend. He still sounds that way. (And I’m wondering if there is something in a liberal’s genetic or cultural makeup that makes them prefer being talked down to by less capable speakers, particularly the so-called great Orator, Obama.)
But there is a drawback to Newt's conversational style: sometimes he’s just talking through ideas aloud, the kind of thing we do at home or in the neighborhood, just seeing what an idea sounds like, to bounce it around while we look at it outside of ourselves. But he is doing it publicly, on the national stage. He’s not very careful, and sometimes not very consistent.
Announcing, during a debate, a plan to give a path to citizenship to any illegal who has succeeded in evading detection long enough is an example. Twenty years, he said. Exactly? What about those who have only hidden out here for 19 years? What if they haven’t managed to stay out of trouble the whole 20 years, but had an indiscretion somewhere along the line? What about the paying taxes part? If they’ve been paying taxes, then they’ve had a stolen social security number; does that count against them or for them? In other words, the sentiment that we’re not going to send the equivalent of heat seeking missiles to root out long-time illegals isn’t a well-thought-out policy. It’s just a consideration—and not even a relevant one until the border is secure.
His mixed messages on climate control—and government’s role in it—is another example. His “Drill here, Drill now, Pay less” slogan was brilliantly concise and timely. But then he went and did that ad on the couch with Nancy Pelosi. He brushes that off as one of the stupidest things he's done. But one doesn’t get up in the morning and say, “I don’t know why, but I just feel I should do a climate change ad with Nancy Pelosi today,” and then afterward smack your forehead and say, “What was I thinking?” He was thinking he would accomplish something; he didn’t. But to date he hasn’t explained what he was trying to accomplish—probably something meant as being broad-minded, reaching across the aisle, or possibly simply promoting himself. Certainly not something related to the enumerated powers of government.
He started out, as most Republicans did in the pre-Reagan era, as Democrat-lite, not totally against government intervention, but less of it than what the Democrats were offering. Some of that attitude was a result of the oppression of constitutional ideas for some decades. As Reagan brought the message of lower taxes and smaller government home, and returned us to an unabashed patriotism, I think Newt moved along with that transition. But I don’t think it’s from an inborn understanding of constitutionally enumerated powers, of which he is very aware as a historian. He has a problem many smart people do, a sense that if everybody just listened to him and did things his way, they’d be better off. Liberals, who often make the assumption they are the smartest in the room, along with certain Republicans who often recognize (and overestimate) their own brilliance tend to have this mistaken notion. Humility would help—along with an understanding that no centralized power has better decision-making ability than the disparate minds of millions of individuals.
Newt has spent some four decades in Washington, as an insider. Good or bad depends on your perspective. This could mean he has experience. Or it could mean that he’s riddled with the disease we’re trying to cure.
Historically it has been extremely rare for someone to go from Congressman to President, even though as Congressman he was Speaker. Name recognition is the one thing he has over the other candidates. He is well known, but no one beyond his own congressional district has ever voted him into office. (This is a drawback for Michelle Bachman as well.) And since his fall from grace a decade and a half ago he has been elected to nothing. We know the opposition hated him then, and we can presume they hate him still. Any less-than-conservative views he may offer will not win liberal votes; they will only alienate conservative votes.
I heard somewhere today that there’s a lot of Newt bashing going on right now. I didn’t time this piece to join that; I’m going through the whole crowd, measuring pros and cons. If Newt has indeed mended his spiritual weaknesses, and if he can reign in his tendency to try to solve problems using government intervention, then I would be enthusiastic in preferring him to Obama. But those are big ifs. When he got in the race, my first reaction was, “Not seriously?” I don’t want to be pressed into defending everything he has done and said. But I’ve been glad to have him in the debates. He believes in the future of our great country. And he can articulate a conservative message. He has a lot to offer. But if I had my choice, I’d prefer him in an advisory role, rather than as President Gingrich.