Monday, December 19, 2011

Gingrich pluses and minuses

There's a lot to like and dislike about Newt Gingrich. I have long viewed him as an excellent political strategist because of the way he orchestrated the multi-year campaign to achieve Republican control of the House of Representatives after 40 years in the wilderness. I've admired his futurism, his willingness to embrace new ideas for public policy. He was an advocate of the Revolution in Military Affairs that brought U.S. armed forces into technological dominance. He was part of the Hart-Rudman Commission that, two years before the 9/11 attacks, warned of a terrorist attack on American soil and urged the creation of a department of homeland security. He has also endorsed some pretty wacky ideas, but that's the price of energetic creativity.

On the other hand, Gingrich is personally responsible for two decades of political nastiness and hyperpolarization. He refused to support President George H.W. Bush's 1990 budget deal that capped government spending and allowed a balanced budget a few years later. He undermined U.S. political institutions in his quest for Republican power. He even said, "We have to destroy the House [of Representatives] in order to save it."  E. J. Dionne has some more examples of Gingrich's political extremism, including his 1978 statement:
“One of the great problems we have had in the Republican Party is that we . . . encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal and faithful, and all those Boy Scout words which would be great around the campfire but are lousy in politics. ... You’re fighting a war. It is a war for power. ... Don’t try to educate. That is not your job. What is the primary purpose of a political leader? To build a majority.”
Although he was occasionally willing to compromise, he established a take-no-prisoners rhetorical standard that has made political gridlock dominant today.

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