Newt Gingrich, You’re No Ronald Reagan
Like many Republicans before him, Newt Gingrich is trying to claim the mantle of Reagan. He is the one least entitled to it.
Michael van der Gailen points out the most important way in which Newt Gingrich is nothing like the 40th President of the United States:
The former Speaker of the House compared himself several times to President Ronald Reagan yesterday (as he has done throughout the campaign). He worked with the 40th president, he argued, and learned a lot from him. In many ways, he’d like voters to believe, he even resembles Reagan.
Well, like Reagan, Gingrich is indeed quite feisty. He’s willing to take the fight to his opponents and their (progressive) ideology. However, there are also a few major differences, the most important of which are:
1. Reagan clearly had a conservative record, Gingrich does not.
2. Reagan was a very likable guy, Gingrich is anything but.
The second point should not be underestimated. Gingrich is a great debater, but it’s incredibly difficult to actually like him. That will be a problem in the national elections, when he has to take on a president who is liked (although voters don’t think too highly of his policies). Independents who aren’t sure whom to vote for always end up voting for the candidate they sympathize with most, which means that the Independent vote will go to Obama, if Gingrich is his opponent.
Van der Gailen goes on to argue, correctly, I would submit, that it is because of Gingrich’s demonstrated inability to attract Independent voters that he would end up losing a General Election. However, I think his point about the differences between Reagan and Gingrich point to even further differences between the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party that, for some bizarre reason, seems to think that Newt Gingirch is a fit to be President of the United States.
The issue of Gingrich’s likeability cannot be dismissed by his supporters so easily. It was, for example, the fact that Gingrich ended up becoming less likable than Bill Clinton than the budget battles of 1995 and 1996 that Clinton ended up winning the public relations battle back then. Republican politicians who were active back then have mentioned often how it was Gingrich, not Bob Dole, who ended up becoming the face of the Republican Party during the 1996 elections (not that Dole had much of a chance to begin with). After the disappointing 1998 mid-terms, the ethics violations, and Gingrich’s own hypocrisy while pursuing impeaching proceedings against the President, Republicans forced Gingrich out of the Speakership. Today, there are very few Members of Congress who served with Gingrich who are willing to speak positively about him, and for Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough has described him as “not a nice human being.”
That’s a far cry from Ronald Reagan.
The Ronald Reagan of 1980, and even of 1976, 1968, and 1964 was an optimist who spoke of America as being the “shining city on the hill,” and who, even in the depths of the Carter Malaise believed that the country’s best days were ahead of it, a sentiment that appeared throughout his major campaign speeches in 1980. One of the reasons Ronald Reagan was successful was because he brought that message of optimism at a time when the American public was becoming increasingly pessimistic. Near the end of his Presidency, Reagan said that he felt his greatest accomplishment was that he made Americans feel proud of their country again. Given the state of things in the late 70s that was no small accomplishment and, along with his actual political successes and the role he played in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion, it strikes me as being one of the gifts that he gave America, and something we should be thankful for. Most importantly, Ronald Reagan was a likeable guy. Even his opponents would admit in the end that it was hard not to like him even if you vehemently disagreed with him.
There is nothing about Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, that could be called the slightest bit optimistic. Where Reagan found ways to still find the best in his opponents even when he vehemently, and publicly, disagreed with them, Gingrich belongs to that brand of conservatism that chooses to tear down relationships, demonize the opposition, and stoke fear among the conservative base on even the most minor issues, even if that happens to be the fate of a former Burlington Coat Factory in Lower Manhattan. Could anyone really picture Ronald Reagan condemning an entire religion, or saying that the President has a “Kenyan anti-colonialist world view”? That doesn’t sound like anything the Reagan I grew up with would say.
Modern conservatism, especially as practiced by the Gingrich’s of the world, continues to claim the legacy of Ronald Reagan. However, people like Gingrich have thrown Reagan’s optimism overboard in favor of a philosophy that seems to find enemies around every corner, and conspiracies behind every event. I don’t know what you call that, but it sure as heck isn’t Ronald Reagan, which just makes the efforts by such people to claim Reagan’s legacy as their own all the more pathetic.
Speaker Gingrich, I remember Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was one of the reasons I became as interested in politics and the future of this country as I am. You, Speaker Gingrich, are no Ronald Reagan.