Newt Gingrich: Unorthodox Visionary?

Joe Klein explains “Why Newt Is So Much Fun to Watch” in a column for Time. Basically, it’s because he is an idea machine who can talk policy interestingly and reasonably. “Gingrich was certainly wild with ideas last week, flicking them off at warp speed, like a dog shaking himself clean after romping through a pond.”

The ideas listed include making disaster relief more like ATM machines, a wiki for health care, and “a guest-worker program for immigrants in which 10% of their wages would be placed in an investment account that could be accessed only when they returned to their home country” and “bipartisan candidate events in the early presidential primary states” to force Democrats and Republicans to talk to one another and create civility and “a real dialogue.”

I certainly agree that Gingrich is bright and visionary. He combines a college professor’s passion for learning and enthusiasm for sharing what he knows with an inventor’s capacity for generating ideas.

But Gingrich is not a tabula rasa upon whom we can project our ideal politician. The man was a Member of Congress for twenty years and Speaker of the House, arguably the second most powerful office in American politics, for the last four of those. While he has an amazing ability to generate ideas and enthusiasm, he did not get all that much done in a policy sense.

Yes, he led a “revolution” that helped create Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress for the first time in decades. And he passed various feel-good measures. But how much real change is there? Most of the meaningful reforms that he helped pass, like making unfunded mandates illegal and putting strict term limits on House leaders, have already been undone.

Remember his idea for taking the dumbest law currently on the books and repealing it once a week? How’s that going?

And, aside from its propensity to hand out money like it’s going out of style, is our government more like an ATM now than it was in 1994?

How much more civil was government during Gingrich’s Speakership than before?

Even the ideas that Klein found so engaging strike me as odd. Do we really want to take an additional ten percent off the top of the checks of our poorest workers so that we can hold them hostage? And, for that matter, why would that even work? Presumably, they would still be ahead of the game if they stayed here. Were the difference between the American and Mexican economies a mere ten percent wage differential, would so many people risk death to come live in a society that speaks a different language and forces them underground?

Would forcing candidates who are in the early stages of partisan primary battles to come together really lead to more civility? Or just an opportunity to score political points with their nominating electorate? Indeed, don’t we already force the two parties to come together for the last several months of the election cycle? How’s that working out?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Michael says:

    Apparently you have forgotten mad dog Gingrich who has done so much to polarize America, a man who talked so often about family values while having an affair and even serving his wife with divorce papers as she lay recovering from breast removal. How short is the memory. He had to quit being speaker because he was so outstanding amoral and without any shred of decency. Is that the man you esteem today?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Michael: Are you illiterate or simply a reader of headlines? Indeed, even the headline ends with a question mark.

  3. Bithead says:

    Newt’s recent commentaries about the federal government’s response to Katrina… (if, in fact we can accept the MSM’s word on what he said as factual… always a questionable point…) are troubling.

    I mean, look, I understand there has to be some delta between him and the people he’s going to be running against. But would it not be simpler to just tell the truth, instead of pandering to NOLA?

    I also think he’s out of line as regards his recent claims about discretionary spending, given the current balance of power in both houses of Congress. The fact of the matter is that there are not enough conservative Republicans involved in either house of Congress at this point to make pushing for real reform on such matters a viable option. This is something that President Bush recognized right off the bat, and has had to deal with since his first inauguration.

    This is not, as Gingrich claims, a case of being co-opted by Washington, but rather, recognizing what needs to be done to move the ball in the proper direction… in however small or large a step we are able to. The politics of the possible.

    Republicans In Name Only, such as John McCain, and Lincoln Chaffee, are precisely the reason we haven’t been able to move the ball faster towards the goal line. Mr. Gingrich would do far better to focus on those matters instead of laying blame on those fighting the good fight.

    Mr. Gingrich has much to commend him, both historically, and currently. Anyone who unhinges the left with the ferocity that Gingrich does has soemthing going for him. I think Gingrich (At least, at the moment) a far better choice than Governor Romney, for example.

    However, Mr. Gingrich is going to have to pick his rethorical targets with a little more accuracy if he wants to get anywhere in the 2008 elections, which is what I suspect he is aiming for. Failing his getting more accurate on picking his targets… and publicly identifying the real problems (the RINOS) as they are, I will not support him in the 2008 primaries.

  4. Eneils Bailey says:

    Good point Michael,
    Maybe we should enroll Newt in the Bill and Hillary School of character development.
    Simply disagreeing with a politician’s ideas does not make him a polarizing individual.

  5. just me says:

    I do like the fact that Newt is very mucy a visionary and idea man-not so sure that translates into the ability to lead.

    Newt’s character is also not all that, but if Hillary is the dem nominee his baggage and her baggage will cancel each other out.

    I would be hesitant to support him in a race-I would much rather see him be a governor first, or serve in an administration (he actually could be a very good behind the scenes guy or maybe VP, because he is an idea man).