Newt: In the 1990s, Who Cared About the 10th Amendment?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 17 2011 2:47 PM

Newt: In the 1990s, Who Cared About the 10th Amendment?

I've been working on other stuff today and couldn't keep track of the buffeting Newt Gingrich is taking even if I wanted to. Politico's scoop about the Gingriches' debt to Tiffany's is the kind of detail, like John Edwards' haircuts or Dan Quayle's spelling, that lends itself so easily to Jay Leno monologues that it might never fade. It's like watching a Street Fighter II character get flurry-slapped by E. Honda. And it's all happening to a fascinating candidate whom no one would call the frontrunner.

Phil Klein has a solid recap of Gingrich's air-clearing conference call , which succeeds in clearing very, very little. He's a prisoner of his record, which stretches back to times when Republicans entertained the idea of carbon caps, or health care mandates, or when they experimented with entitlement reform and got burned. He's failing litmus tests left and right. On the mandate:

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It's nonsense to start a conversation by going back 18 years and playing "gotcha." I was explaining the position of conservatives who were trying to defeat HillaryCare. In 1993, you had nothing like the current focus on the 10 th amendment. You had nothing like the current desire to get power out of Washington. And you didn't have the sense of radicalism that Obama has injected into the system, in the sense of drifting toward a socialized bureaucratic structure that runs the whole country.

Who can really dispute that? There wasn't anything like the focus on the 10th Amendment in 1993. There was no Tea Party. There was no 10th Amendment Center. And, hey, once those organizations rose up, Gingrich rushed to the front of the line to support them. His ballyhooed March visit to Georgia, which was wrongly reported as a 2012 campaign launch, was actually a meeting to "ask the governor to establish a 'Tenth Amendment Team' within the governor’s office that focuses on defending Georgia’s 10th Amendment rights under the Constitution.

Gingrich's explanation for this is that the Obama presidency created a "sense of drifting toward a socialized bureaucratic structure that runs the whole country." That's what Tea Partiers say. But Tea Partiers weren't running part of the government 18 years ago. And Gingrich can either say that he was naive 18 years ago, or -- much more dangerously -- that the fears about Barack Obama's death march toward socialism are overblown.

UPDATE: Actually, maybe Gingrich can't say that he was naive back then. He may not have been concerned in 1993, but in his 1998 book Lessons Learned the Hard Way , he praised Gov. Mike Leavitt's 10th Amendment rhetoric. "It was added to the Constitution in the first place because the Founding Fathers wisely feared the possibility of the untrammeled growth of a centralized federal government," he wrote.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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