The Gingrich Gestalt
From the Dec. 31, 2011, issue of NR


Mark Steyn

With his numbers sinking, Mitt was driven to go negative. Asked where his policies differed from Gingrich’s, Romney cut to the chase: “We could start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon.” You can’t tell the players without a scorecard, folks. Both leading conservative candidates have supported government mandates on health care. Both leading conservative candidates have supported massive expansion of entitlements. But they differ on the critical issue of whether we should use large numbers of welfare claimants to mine unpasteurized green cheese from the dark side of the moon. To be fair to Gingrich, he’s generally sounder on economic issues than Romney: Mitt’s reforms would leave us with a corporate-tax rate twice as high as Newt’s, and, in contrast to the Gingrich abolition of taxes on capital gains, Romney is proposing to end them only for those making under $200,000 because it would be wrong to “spend our precious tax dollars for a tax cut.” When “conservatives” think tax cuts are government “spending,” who needs Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank?

I have little fear that a Gingrich administration will be spending money on lunar mining or giant space mirrors or genetically modifying plant life around the planet to suck all the carbon out. But I rather doubt we’ll get the 12.5 percent corporate-tax rate and the abolition of the tax on capital gains, either. Newt is said to be “unpredictable.” This is true in the narrow sense that one would not have predicted that a social faux pas in placement on state transportation to the Yitzhak Rabin funeral would lead him to shut down the federal government. But, aside from such offenses to his amour-propre, Newt is actually extremely predictable. The surest way to bet is that the big-government stuff will happen and the rest won’t. It was Newt who gave us S-CHIP, the biggest expansion of Medicaid since the program was created. On the other hand, when it came to holding the line on “tax credits” for people who don’t pay any taxes, Gingrich looked into Clinton’s eyes and melted. Newt defends his big-government inclinations by placing them in an historical context of a muscular activist Washington, citing, for example, the Homestead Act of 1862. As it happens, I would be in favor of a new Homestead Act. Government owns far too much land, greater than the sovereign territory of many other major nations, and that fact alone supports the self-indulgent delusion that America can chug along as the Sierra Club writ large, a giant wildlife preserve that no longer needs to be in any business so vulgar as energy extraction, all of which can be outsourced (if you’re Obama) to Latin America or (if you’re Gingrich) to the moon. A small-government conservative might conclude that America would benefit from the equivalent of Mrs. Thatcher’s decision in 1979 to sell off public housing to its tenants: It’s not an especially big thing, but it’s a way of communicating your understanding of the relationship between the citizen and the state. In that sense, few of Gingrich’s proposals bear comparison with the Homestead Act: Instead of enabling Americans to take risks and push the frontiers, they incline mostly to the expansion of bureaucracy and an increase in dependency. As a result of Gingrich’s “reforms,” four out of ten American children are on Medicaid.

Presumably this is what he meant when he told Newsweek that his Gestalt is “in many ways conservative, in many ways very moderate.” I’d prefer to formulate it this way: Gingrich is a pushover for progressivism who’s succeeded in passing himself off as a hard-line right-wing bastard. Which is why Democrats who make the mistake of believing their own talking points on Newt invariably have to improvise hastily. In 2007 John Kerry found himself booked for a debate with Gingrich on climate change and had his speechwriters prepare some boilerplate about Newt’s “marching in lockstep with the climate-change deniers.” Unfortunately for him, the former Speaker spoke first and announced that man-made global warming was a real threat that we needed to address “very actively.” He praised as “a very interesting read” Kerry’s unreadable book on the subject, and for good measure added that he was “very worried about polar bears” because “my name ‘Newt’ actually comes from the Danish ‘Knut,’ and there’s been a major crisis in Germany over a polar bear named ‘Knut.’” Kerry abandoned his prescripted attack on Gingrich, hailed his candor, and put his arm around him. Lest the paying customers feel cheated by the bipartisan love-in, the senator attempted to put a bit of clear blue water between him and the ruthless right-wing bastard by raising the possibility that perhaps Gingrich did not share his enthusiasm for cap-and-trade. Newt said he was willing to be persuaded. “I am going to sell a few more books for you, John,” he declared.