Monday, August 6, 2007


I'm having real difficulty believing what I just read. Maybe I need to think some more about the logic of inconsistency, and how politicians can strategically place themselves all across the policy spectrum to appeal to the many all at once. At a meeting of young Republicans, Newt Gingrich, of all people, seems to have addressed the followers in what anyone would objectively describe as liberal (and reality-based) terms. As Julia Dahl reports at Salon,

He began benignly enough, using an anecdote about going to Disney World with his grandchildren to explain an epiphany he'd had about the value of not "thinking like a Republican." From there Gingrich moved into waters the students surely did not expect. He cited the Detroit school system, where a black male is more likely to go to prison than graduate from high school.

"How can we tolerate systems more likely to send young Americans to prison than college?" asked Gingrich. "Republicans have this maniacally dumb idea of red versus blue. They say Detroit is a blue place, so we're not going to go there."

And he was just getting started.

"Republican political doctrine has been a failure," Gingrich said. "Look at New Orleans. How can you say that was a success? Look at Baghdad ... We've been in charge for six years and I don't think you can look around and say that was a great success.

"We have got to get beyond this political bologna. I'm not allowed to say anything positive about Hillary Clinton because then I'm not a loyal Republican, and she's not allowed to say anything positive about me because then she's not a loyal Democrat. What a stupid way to run a country." This last line he nearly spat out, expressing what seemed like genuine outrage. But the response was muted. Tepid applause bubbled up and then died within seconds.

Inhofe had recommended the students read Michael Crichton's "State of Fear" to learn about the global warming hoax, but Gingrich suggested they pick up newly elected French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy's "Testimony."

And finally, when it seemed he'd been as blasphemous as he could possibly be, Gingrich pulled out a whopper: "None of you should believe we are winning this war," he said, referring to the so-called war on terror. "We are in a phony war ... we have not been taking this seriously."

When his speech was over, the students stood and applauded politely, but the volume was distinctly lower than it had been just an hour before.

What do you make of that?


Len said...

Having seen Newt debate George McGovern at George Washington University on the wisdom of the invasion of Grenada, I'm flabbergasted. Flat out flabbergasted.

Sometimes people do have profound epiphanies, though. It's theoretically possible. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and if he keeps saying sensible things, believe in his conversion. Snake oil salesmen have a habit of revealing themselves.

However, if he was merely pandering, he seems to have chosen the wrong crowd.

Who am I? said...

Yes, the wrong crowd indeed. Doesn't really fit the logic of inconsistency argument...


Perhaps Newt the ideologue is finally letting his guard down. It has to be extremely difficult to keep up the pretense that the current regime in Washington has any redeeming qualities in the face of so much contrary evidence.

Perhaps he's also giving up the foolish idea of running for president and feels free to be more honest.

Time will tell if he just momentarily got off his meds or if he might actually be falling under the sway of reason and common sense. Stranger things have happened.

Partha said...

I agree with memitchell. When you've painted yourself into a corner, the way out is bound to be messy. The uber-strategist is suggesting a messy exit strategy to his party, and not just on Iraq.

John Savage said...

My answer, as a conservative but anti-Bush blogger, would be that Gingrich is trying to capitalize on the anti-Bush sentiment and channel it away from the real "change" candidates (especially Ron Paul). The GOP wants an insider to put on outsider clothes and fool people into supporting him, not one of the real outsiders. See here for more.

I think Obama is much the same way on the Democratic side. His positions are the same old tired positions, but the media play up his reputation as an outsider. New, uninformed voters may get excited about Obama, expecting change, and then be rudely disappointed to see what he does if he actually wins the presidency.

So in general, I think it's just a move to co-opt the outsider vote.

Kate said...

At some point, like so many conservatives--Bruce Bartlett, Andrew Sullivan, Richard Clark, David Brooks, Colin Powell, etc. etc.--Gingrich compared his vision of what the USA would be under conservative leadership to the actual USA achieved by Bush Republicanism, and he, to his credit, was horrified. He detects a big gap.

But it is easy for him to see how George Bush's policies are not consistent with conservative theory. Therefore, he feels free to criticize because he regards George Bush's conservatism as an aberration, a mutation, a train-wreck (whereas I view it as completely consistent with the kind of values, policies and tactics embraced by Gingrich in 1994.)

Thus, NG will reject this particular embodiment of conservatism before he rejects the theory or principles of conservatism. It is exactly analogous to scientific thinking, actually. It isn't that the theory was wrong, it is that this particular experiment was badly designed and failed to support the theory.

John Savage suggests that NG is doing this for political reasons--an interesting take. That could be. But I see him as being sincere. He certainly has lots of company in the conservative, but anti-Bush camp. With the exception of Paul, however, none is campaigning for the Republican nomination because, evidently, the Republican party itself is no longer conservative. They have moved on to some melange of authoritarian, fundamentalist, anti-constitutional, cronism, grift, winner-takes all political philosophy. whatever that is called.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Dan Kahan at Yale has argued that politically viable philosophies must appeal to different people for different reasons, which speaks, I think, to your sense that "how politicians can strategically place themselves all across the policy spectrum to appeal to the many all at once."

But that's not what I think is going on here. I think 1) Gingrich is out of office so he can speak honestly, and 2) he's expressing the sentiments of a real conservative populist, and there are many out there who have no stakes in the Bush experiment.

To give him credit, Gingrich is a forward thinking guy. He sees that if the public only hears Republicans lying to them, across the board, the party could be in serious long-term trouble. So he's telling the truth. To tepid applause.

Thanks for stopping by Grits, btw. Did you actually write about Voronoi cells in your book, I'm curious to know? Or do I have to read it to find out? Good luck with sales, in any event. Best,

Who am I? said...


Yes, I think you're right that Newt knew quite well what he was doing. Bill Clinton ever referred to him as perhaps the most savvy political mind of our era...even if he's not likely to be an attractive presidential candidate.

No, I didn't write about Voronoi cells in the book, but the idea is used in basic physics, especially in the physics of crystalline solids where the atomic structure is spatially periodic. I just happened to read that post by accident, and was struck by your discussion of how individuals have free will, yet are still constrained by collective social patterns; we help to create the social patterns which then act back on us, channeling out further actions. This is the very center of the argument I make in the book -- that social science can make better sense of our world if we really pay attention to that feedback (and its inherent nonlinearities).

Thanks for the comment!


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