Newts Ideas

Bill Scher

It has come to this. The Republican primary race has become so sad that even Newt Gingrich gets a turn at playing frontrunner.

He has long conned much of conservative movement and the Washington media into treating him as some sort of intellectual giant, when his vaunted “ideas” are no more impressive than those of a barstool blowhard.

And for a few months this spring, it seemed as if his pathetic campaign road show had made the intellectual emperor’s clothes spontaneously combust.

The flameout began in March when Mr. Ideas drowned himself in low-rent hackery, attacking President Obama for not going into LIbya guns-a-blazing, then quickly turning pacifist as soon as President Obama launched a military operation.

Two months later, much of his staff abandoned the campaign. Then, in what seemed to be the nail in coffin, conservative Weekly Standard editor Andrew Ferguson penned, for The New York Times Magazine, a devastating mega-book review of Gingrich’s 21 books.

Ferguson did not find a rejuvenating fountain of brilliant ideas:

The ultimate problem with Gingrich’s firehose approach to idea-generation wasn’t the ideological cast of the ideas but their practicality.

To pluck a couple of trivial examples from the scores of proposals he offers in “To Renew America”: “We should work with every recovery program to develop low-cost detoxification programs.” Terrific, but who’s the “we,” and what would the “work” entail, and how would the cost be lowered? Before you can ask the question, Gingrich has rushed ahead. Because “we need to know more about the environment,” we should “develop a worldwide biological inventory.” Excellent idea, for all I know, but administered how? Paid for by whom?

Gingrich’s vagueness was always a problem, but the books show something more: a near-total lack of interest in the political implementation of his grand ideas — a lack of interest, finally, in politics at its most mundane and consequential level.

Now, five months later, conservatives do not seem to be embracing Ferguson’s conclusions — perhaps because he made the mistake of drawing his conclusions in the New York Times.

After a handful of snide debate performances, where he spends his time lambasting the debate moderators for not giving him hours of time to wax poetic about his alleged ideas, coupled with the more recent flameouts of Michelle Bachmann, RIck Perry and Herman Cain, suddenly Gingrich is back on the conservative pedestal.

In a column that acknowledged some of Gingrich’s many flaws, National Review editor Rich Lowry urges conservatives to give Gingrich a fresh look, because his intellectual brilliance overshadows his personality defects:

He can be as inflammatory as Donald Trump and as populist as Sarah Palin. Yet he brings to the table the wellsprings of knowledge of a history Ph.D. and an incorrigible — insufferable, perhaps — policy wonk.

No politician has spent so long saying we need such fundamental change. It is typical of Gingrich that his 21st-century Contract With America is conceived as “a larger and more complex developmental challenge than any presidential campaign has undertaken in modern times.” Cue the eye-rolling.

But the country now has such grave challenges even beyond the headline problems of joblessness and spiraling debt that there’s a place for a candidate devoted to upending 20th-century structures in health care, education and more. Never have Gingrich’s extravagant overstatements seemed so apt.

But what exactly is he offering today that is so ingenuous?

Nothing but the same conservative gruel that has either been proven disastrous or vehemently opposed by the public.

He pushes even more tax cuts for the wealthy and for already profitable corporations, despite the failure of the Bush tax cuts to create jobs.

He dusts off conservative plans to privatize Social Security and Medicare, despite repeated public rejection.

He recycles the health care plan pushed by President George W. Bush and failed candidate John McCain: replace President Obama’s new law extending health insurance for more than 30 million Americans, with a measly tax credit for which to buy your own insurance, without a serious plan to make that insurance affordable to all.

He proposes cutting unemployment benefits at a time when the ratio of unemployed Americans to job openings is 4.2 to 1, because, in his words, it is “fundamentally wrong to give people money for 99 weeks for doing nothing.”

He trots out the hackiest idea of all: the Balanced Budget Amendment, which no serious intellectual would ever even entertain, because anyone with the slightest shred of economic knowledge understands it would completely hamstring government in times of economic crisis and would have condemned us to a Great Depression in 2009 if it was in place.

Those of us in the progressive majority can take solace knowing that when the spotlight is on Newt, his phoniness and obnoxiousness always shines bright. He will implode again, like he always does. Maybe sooner, maybe later, but always in time.

But to my conservative friends, do you really need someone as transparently awful as Newt to champion run-of-the-mill conservative orthodoxy?

How much longer will you make us all suffer by keeping Newt on his know-it-all barstool, shouting his wisdom to all who just want a drink?

Only you can put him out of his misery, and save us from more.

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