Newt and The Brooks Hatlen Effect

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 17 2011 11:18 AM

Newt and The Brooks Hatlen Effect

In The Shawshank Redemption , the Oscar-nominated adaptation of Stephen King's short story, a long-serving prison librarian named Brooks Hatlen is paroled and sent to live in a halfway house. He's free; he's got what he dreamed of for decades. But at some point got used to prison, and unable to deal with the world outside. I won't spoil what happens next; suffice to say, it's not uplifting.

Brooks Hatlen comes to mind when I see a voter meet Newt Gingrich and call him an "embarrassment" because he appeared to criticize Paul Ryan's Medicare reform plan on Meet the Press .

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics


The last time Gingrich was in the arena, in the 1990s, the media climate was tough. He'd not under-estimated how tough it would get. "Republicans are with good reason highly distrustful of the media," he wrote in his 1998 memoir. "They do not believe that they are likely to get a fair shake from most reporters. We know all this better than anyone."

So I don't think Gingrich was unprepared for the media to ask him about the Ryan plan. What stings him here is the cheetah speed at which the Ryan Plan became 1) Republican orthodoxy, the first real attempt to shrink the welfare state since 2005, 2) something all Republican voters were intimately aware of and bought into, and 3) something they'd immediately confront him about. The rapidity with which legislation can become a litmus test, in the era of the Tea Party and social networks and blogs, is stunning. And again, I don't think Gingrich forgot to read that part of Alvin Toffler and failed to see this coming. He benefited from it! As a conservative speaker and author since 2004, he's been remarkably successful in getting pundits and allies to take his new ideas and new frames seriously. But he was in the prison library, otherwise known as "the D.C. suburbs and the green rooms of cable news." In the real world, he's getting chewed up.

If we learn one more thing from yesterday and today, it's that Ryan, not Gingrich, is the "idea man" of the GOP circa 2011. He's the one proposing radical change that is focus-grouped but not invulnerable to polling swings.

(Thanks to Julian Sanchez for naming the "effect.")

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics



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