Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Klein, Douthat: Who Can Name Gingrich's Big Ideas?

Is anyone less deserving of the title "ideas man" than Newt Gingrich? Paul Krugman had it right: Gingrich is "a stupid man's idea of what a smart person sounds like." Consider Gingrich's recent ideas: liberal federal employees should be fired; "radical" judges should be impeached and possibly arrested; school janitors should be fired and poor kids should take their place. It is amazing that the author of these outlandish proposals is treated in some circles as a public intellectual, let alone taken seriously as a presidential candidate.

Liberal commentator Ezra Klein (left) and conservative Ross Douthat agree on the paucity of ideas from this so-called "ideas man." Klein states that Gingrich's recent half-baked arguments are characteristic of his career:

He’s got the largest and most fiscally irresponsible tax cut in the race, but he doesn’t mention it much. His plans to cut spending are vague. He says he agrees with Ron Paul on the dangers of fiat money and the Federal Reserve, but he hasn’t proposed doing anything about it. Last night, during his speech in South Carolina, the only policy he explained in any detail was a proposal to allow offshore drilling off the coast of Louisiana and use the resulting revenues to modernize the port. That would be a medium-sized idea if he was running for governor of Louisiana. It’s the 14th bullet point in your energy policy when you’re running for president.

Broadly speaking, this seems typical for Gingrich’s career: His ideas on the big issues are standard-issue conservatism, and they’re mixed in with occasional flights of fancy (illuminate highways using orbiting mirrors that reflect moonlight), pure plays to resentment and fear (execute 19-year-olds who are stupidly trying to smuggle two ounces of pot from Mexico), and a lot of small, specific ideas, like the Louisiana port reconstruction. But perhaps I’m wrong. Can anyone name some actually big, actually workable, actually new ideas that Gingrich has been associated with during his career? What has he brought to the table that wouldn’t have been there in his absence?

Douthat (left) has difficulty identifying any worthy ideas on Gingrich's part; instead, the GOP candidate offers insubstantial proposals and the politics of anger:

I have, for my sins, watched Gingrich make his pitch across what feels like seventeen thousand Republican primary debates, and I am at a loss to identify the “big ideas” and “big solutions” that he is supposedly campaigning on. Yes, he has an implausible supply-side tax plan, but you never hear him talk about it. He has technically signed on to some form of entitlement reform, but you never hear him talk about that, either. Instead, so far as I can tell, his “idea-oriented” campaign consists almost entirely of promising to hold Lincoln-Douglas-style debates with President Obama, grandstanding about media bias and moderator stupidity, defending his history of ideological flexibility much more smoothly than Mitt Romney, and then occasionally throwing out a wonky-sounding notion (like, say, outsourcing E-Verify to American Express) that’s more glib than genuinely significant. His last-minute momentum in South Carolina, which last night’s debate did nothing to derail, has been generated almost exclusively by the politics of ressentiment: If he wins the Palmetto State primary, it will be because conservative voters don’t much like the mainstream press, and Gingrich has mastered the art of taking tough questions and turning them into dudgeon-rich denunciations of the liberal media and all its works.

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