The New Newt
The self-serving spins of Newt Gingrich.
Newt Gingrich is back. The former House speaker is running for president with a new wife and a new résumé. But he hasn't forgotten his favorite excuses and lines of attack. This week, he's been trying them out on national TV. Here are some of them.
1. Don't impose radical change. Kicking off his campaign on Meet the Press, Gingrich blasted Rep. Paul Ryan's House GOP Medicare plan: "I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate. … I'm against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change." Yesterday on Face the Nation, Gingrich added: "We, the people, should not have Washington impose large-scale change on us."
2. Unless you're me. Gingrich told Bob Schieffer: "I'm running for president because this country needs very dramatic change. I'm going to outline a program of very dramatic change." On Meet the Press, he called himself a "proposer of very serious, very fundamental policy change." So radical change is bad, but dramatic change—Gingrich's change—is good.
3. Don't speak grandly about small or empty gestures. Gingrich accused President Obama of issuing "large pronouncements with small effect." In particular, he faulted Obama for having "announced grandly, 'Qaddafi must go.' "
4. Unless you're me. David Gregory reminded Gingrich that "serious bipartisan figures" have said we can't balance the budget without more revenue. Gingrich shot back:
Look, serious bipartisan figures are operating within the Washington consensus, which is wrong. You can, in fact, fundamentally rethink the federal government. … I just put on the table for you not paying crooks, which is worth between $70 billion and $120 billion a year. None of these serious bipartisan figures rethink the federal government. They fight over the current shape of the federal government.
You get the picture. "Fundamental rethinking" is Gingrich's way of refusing to accept everyone else's set of facts—and making his ideas sound bigger than they are.
5. Stand with the people, not the ideologues and intellectuals. Gingrich loves to bash "elites" and "intellectuals." He did it 10 times, for example, in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute. For 2012, he has adopted a new bogeyman: ideologues. "It's we the people, not we the ideologues," he chastised conservatives Monday on the Mike Gallagher show.
6. I'm an intellectual. Gingrich often describes his thoughts as "deep" and "profound." He calls Ryan's plan "the beginning of a profound conversation." When asked whether we should cut aid to Pakistan, he responds: "I believe something much deeper. I think this conflict with radical Islamists is so much more profound. ..." Running for president, too, is profound: He's been "thinking about it very deeply."
By thinking deeply and profoundly, Gingrich avoids getting bogged down in small, superficial things such as reality. When Schieffer asked about his critique of Ryan, Gingrich explained: "I wasn't referring to Ryan. I was referring to a general principle" about radical ideas. "My point was really a larger one," said the former speaker. This is how George W. Bush thought, too: The abstraction, not the problem or policy, is what's real.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.