The essence of this widely retailed story is that rebellious men and women of the grassroots wish to prevent the nomination of Mitt Romney for president. If Romney got elected, we are apparently to believe, he would spend all his time at the country club, checking in periodically with his brokers, instead of removing the cultural and political debris left by the Obama administration. Whereas -- ah! -- if Newt Gingrich became the people's man in the White House, he and Joe the plumber would lead a national revival.
I do not mean to mock. The matters at hand in the Republican presidential contest are serious, but reducing the contest to a race between some Wall Street guy and a feisty little ex-speaker of the House is, um, ludicrous. When in creation did Newt Gingrich, lately celebrated for his payday as a consultant at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, become a man of the people? And, true enough, Romney has lot of money, but does having a lot of money (power to him by the way) mean he connects only to men in dark, thousand-dollar suits? Horse feathers!
The Romney-Gingrich contest (I say this with all deference to Mr. Three in the contest, Rick Santorum, a good guy) has less to do with populism and establishmentarianism than Barack Obama has to do with warmth and candor.
To paraphrase George Wallace's view of the two main political parties, there isn't a dime's worth of difference, philosophically speaking, between Romney and Gingrich. Neither wants to preserve in amber the works of the Obama Congress and administration. Both want, if with different emphases and approaches, to reduce the size, weight and ponderousness of the federal government and stimulate economic growth and job creation.
The whole argument over Wall Street and Main Street -- to which Sarah Palin added her increasingly valueless viewpoints the other day, jumping on Romney and defending Gingrich -- is no argument at all. We can't get along without people on both of these caricatured thoroughfares adding ideas, investment and hard work to the economic mix. The two of them buy and sell, hire and fire, invest and dis-invest -- just at different rhythms and paces. For that matter, the real wealth of the country is on Main Street. Wall Street merely facilitates Main Street's activities. National prosperity depends on the freedom of movement that both boulevards afford.
All right? What's the real argument? The real argument is ancient, rooted in human jealousies that have been alive in the republic since Jefferson threw his arm around the farmers and small merchants even as Hamilton danced regally with the post-colonial royalty of bankers and brokers.
The damaging aspect of it all, right now, involves staging a nonsensical family feud in front of the whole country: Gingrichian "populists" pretending to see in Romney a social enemy; Romneyites slugging back in kind, making the whole party appear in the grip of mass stupidity.
The whole neo-populist notion of portraying Romney as the liberal Republican reincarnation of Tom Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller is dumb and self-defeating. If candidate Romney (like candidate John Kerry a few years back) might benefit from spending less time around yachtsmen and more around the stock car fraternity, how does this result in the anointing of candidate Gingrich as the horny-handed son of toil come to save us from robber barons and boardroom rapists?
The Republican race is, or should be, an embarrassment to Republicans who trumpet the urgency of freeing Washington, D. C., from the grip of a party less populistic even than Gingrich imagines Romney to be: A party wedded lovingly to public service unions and demographic interest groups. The power of that party to mobilize followers and voters next November should be plain to Republicans who remember 2008 -- provided they can be pried from the task at hand, the demolition of Republicans by other Republicans.