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?