The Newt Challenge

Newt Gingrich is brilliant, mercurial, temperamental, eloquent, feisty, occasionally nasty, haughty, successful, acerbic, undisciplined, unpredictable and immensely talented. He clearly exceeds in originality all other candidates in this year’s election, and most presidents of the last century. He has an idea for every issue, and sometimes three or four, and a solution to every problem. He is assumed leadership positions wherever he has been and quickly flamed out after initial successes. Where have we seen this dynamic before ?  In baseball.

Newt Gingrich is the Billy Martin of politics.

Billy Martin managed five teams and was successful with each one, most famously with the Yankees from whom he was fired five times. That itself must be a record, and explicit evidence of his hard-driving personality. He brought teams from baseball oblivion to the mountaintop, winning division titles with Minnesota and Detroit, a world championship with the Yankees, and taking Texas from last place to second-place in one season. But he never lasted long in any one job. His peers admired and despised him, his bosses hired and loathed him, and those who knew him best seemed to like him the least.

The similarities are uncanny. Like Martin in baseball, Newt took the Republicans from a position of permanent inferiority in Congress to majority status – and then within a relatively short time offended his supporters and resigned. He took a bad team and made them play well – but could not sustain it for more than several seasons (i.e., two terms). Like Martin, Gingrich is a master manipulator of talent and the press, a strategist par excellence who is always seeing three or four moves ahead of the opposition.

Like Martin, Newt has a healthy sense of paranoia and a narrative of personal struggle and vindication. Like Martin, Newt is averse to admitting mistakes – except when such admissions are politically advantageous – and always feels himself embattled and encircled by the establishment. Like Martin, Newt easily re-invents himself, from job to job, position to position, with his record of immediate success. Like Martin, Newt found himself accused of ethics violations that led to difficulties with his employers. Like Martin, Newt has had serial affairs, although Martin’s wives numbered four in total, one more than the nuptials of Newt.

As such, Newt presents such a clear contrast to Mitt Romney that it is no wonder they are so frequently at odds, and with such vehemence. Romney is almost preternaturally calm and composed, almost always unruffled, and very controlled and deliberate. Newt is the anti-Romney – frequently ruffled, often scruffy in appearance, and constantly agitated about something. Romney is focused on marketing (himself), whereas Newt appears almost uninterested in marketing, preferring the generation of excitement and exhilaration to the details of campaigning (like getting on the ballot in Virginia and Missouri). And Newt generated enthusiasm, similar to that of Ron Paul supporters but much more grounded in reality.

It is Newt’s volatility that endears him to so many – at least at first – and makes him such a compelling contrast to Barack Obama. He is always on the edge, always ready for a good scrum, always ready with a verbal and intellectual comeback to any challenge. There is no question Newt can’t answer, no policy matter he hasn’t thought through, and no confrontation that he will duck. Many salivate at the prospect of Newt debating Obama, which will not only be exciting television, but will so easily distress the thin-skinned Obama. Newt without a note is more articulate than Obama with three Teleprompters. So that would be fun.

But is that what the presidency is supposed to be ? Presidents are never called on to debate anything, so they are meaningless as a measure of presidential performance. And as indicia of presidential success they are even less significant. They are reality TV – in the case of Republicans, a good way for the electorate to familiarize itself with them, even as it seems they are locked in a circular firing squad. (Come next fall, no one will remember or care about anything said in a January debate, and the election will more turn on some as yet unknown factor.) Newt’s strength as a debater is critical to his nominating chances but ultimately inconsequential should he become the president.

Newt’s capacity as an idea-man makes his candidacy so intriguing. Bright thinkers can produce an idea per minute, but many of them half-baked, some dangerous, and still others immensely profound. The last professor type who occupied the White House was Woodrow Wilson, and his musings – on economic policy and foreign affairs – shape America until today, and in a largely negative way. It was Wilson who laid the foundation for the modern welfare state (that was later expanded by FDR and LBJ) and for the US’s role as the world’s policeman. Often, professors are not sensitive to the real-world effects, consequences, or reactions to their suggestions, and simply develop a new idea to replace the previous failure. Thought, like talk, is often cheap when one is in an inconsequential role in an ivory tower, but hazardous when the real world with its real people intrudes on the speculations.

Many of America’s problems are so intractable that only out-of-the-box solutions should be considered. The unfunded liabilities of all the government welfare programs – Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and now Obamacare (may the Supreme Court overturn it) – run into the tens of trillions of dollars. America’s debt – now sixteen trillion dollars and growing (that’s $16,000,000,000,000.00) simply cannot be satisfied conventionally. Obama’s old idea of “tax the rich” – class warfare that depends for its success on two groups, the unintelligent and the recipient of handouts – is not only hackneyed and tired but also an obvious failure. Forget raising the rates on the rich: if Obama confiscated all the assets of every billionaire in the country, it would underwrite his budget for approximately two months – and then it would be gone, along with his class warfare argument.

Newt can make these arguments colorfully and compellingly. But will he flame out, as did Billy Martin again and again ? Will he offend his peers, co-workers and contemporaries even during the primary season ? He seems already to have inspired much opposition from Republicans with a personal animus towards him, an enmity that Romney never engenders even in his opponents.

A Newt Gingrich presidency would be a wild ride. He has already done an immense public service by pointing out the farce of the “peace process” and the vapidity of the Palestinian claims – the “invented people” remark from which he, to his credit, has not backtracked and has even reiterated.

If he is true to the Billy Martin form, Newt will win this election and then be booted out after one term. The difference – and this of course is critical – is that Martin had only one employer with a vote. Newt has to appeal to tens of millions of employers, who will either embrace or reject his voluble, out-sized personality.

5 responses to “The Newt Challenge

  1. It seems you like the idea of a Gingrich presidency, one in which you predict would be fashioned after the uncontrollable Billy Martin. Billy Martin certainly had talents but he was nothing more than a bully who liked to intimdate people.

    You stated a major untruth in your post by saying the social security and medicare are welfare programs. Take a look at your paycheck stub and you will see deductions for each of these programs, with your employer required to make matching contributions (the self-employed pay both ends). This means that it is a plan that is funded by the beneficiaries, and definitely not welfare. You should unequivocally retract this mistruth. In addition, Congress has (probably illegally) raided social security funds to divert them to the general budget. While medicaid is more of an entitlement program, how would you solve the dilemma that so many unfortunate people find themselves in, particularly when they are elderly. A typical secenario would be a person who worked hard his whole life, paid his taxes and all his other bills, accumulated somewhat of a portfolio, e.g., several hundred thousand dollars, and perhaps also his own home fully paid. Then, a major illness strikes, wiping out all this person’s hard-earned assets and forcing him for the first time in his life to turn to the government. I’m not sure what the answer is but I do know that it is a shame that this happens to people through no fault of their own. Certainly, there are lazy, negligent people who milk the system and that is something the nation has to deal with.

    I am not excusing Obama for his spending ways, indeed he has come nowhere near solving the problems he inherited, even though he claimed he would. Let’s not forget where this “borrow and spend, deficits don’t matter” policy got its start, from your neo-conservatives darling, none other than Ronald Reagan. It reached its crescendo during the administration of selected president Bush. “President” Cheney was quoted as saying Reagan proved deficits don’t matter. So, just like Billy Martin, the Republicans come in and create a wave of success, then offend a lot of voters, get kicked out of office, then blame the opposition for their own failures.

    It is especially offensive when other Republicans attack Romney for being so rich. Didn’t he pursue the American dream and succeed beyond most people’s dreams to become super-wealthy. What’s wrong with that! If his business dealings led to downsizing in some companies, why is he criticized for only doing what was right for the companies to survive. If there were too many employees for a company to survive, were they just supposed to continue in business while losing money just to save these jobs. And yet these are Republicans who are criticizing him for that. Didn’t he help to create new business and therefore new jobs.

    I am not so enamored of Romeny, and certainly less of the other candidates. Rick Santorum states that when a woman gets pregnant from being raped, she should not get an abortion but should consider it as a gift from G-d. Ron Paul is a bigot, anti-semite, etc. who is the only candidate running who I would not prefer to Obama. Why aren’t his real views out there in the open. Isn’t that more important than publicizing the statements of a woman who claimed to have had an affair with Herman Cain. Where are the good Republican candidates to oppose the incompetent, unpopular incumbent in the White House. It is a sad state of affairs.

  2. I say Social Security and Medicare are welfare programs because most people will never get back what they put in, and many who put in nothing get it anyway. If it wasn’t meant to be a welfare program, then I could take my own money, set aside my pension, invest it as I wish, and live off the benefits.
    Especially these days your statement rings false, because, like any good Madoff scheme, my money goes to pay back other people, with the hope and prayer that other people’s money will be there to pay me off someday. But that is unlikely. The pols did break the law in raiding the SS trust fund and use it for regular budgetary needs, with an IOU placed somewhere. It is just not a crime because here the criminals themselves decide what a crime is. In any other pension setup, looting the money for current needs and planning to pay back the investors in the future IS a crime.
    You shouldn’t get discourage about the Republican candidates. Indeed, politics is a messy business, but all the “great” candidates who are not in the race would be pilloried if they were in the race.
    I could live quite happily with a President Romney, a President Gingrich or a President Santorum, and in no particular order.

  3. Also, I can live with any of those three candidates as opposed to who we have in office now; however, I predict that any of those will have a failed presidency. They are nothing special and the American people deserve a lot better. Unfortunately, the really qualified people stay out of the race for the reason you mention, they would get pilloried. Stories, true or false, would come out to taint them. It’s unfortunate we can’t stick to the issues.

  4. Insurance policies are voluntary, with premiums determined by actuarial risk. SS and medicare are vote buying schemes which coerce transfers of wealth from producers to non-producers, and from young workers to their elders (who happen to be far wealthier on average). All of these welfare programs are bankrupt, and kept going temporarily by massive debt, and the fact that the US dollar is still an international reserve currency. To believe that the welfare state is compassionate is belied by the results of the welfare state – increased poverty, increased inequality, increased selfishness, decreased charity, decreased social cohesiveness, etc., etc.

  5. Rick Santorum has my vote. He is a strong friend of Israel having sponsored legislation putting sanctions on Iran and Syria.