Jacob Sullum

The first time Newt Gingrich disgusted me was in 1995, when the freshly installed speaker of the House proposed the death penalty for drug smugglers. Fifteen years later, I had a similar response when Gingrich demanded government action to stop Muslims from building a mosque near the site of the World Trade Center.

From the perspective of someone who wants to minimize the role of government in every aspect of our lives, Gingrich is bad in the ways conservatives tend to be bad -- and then some. At the same time, he is generally not good in the ways conservatives tend to be good, which makes me wonder why anyone would prefer him to Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate.

Gingrich's bloodthirsty enthusiasm for the never-ending, always-failing war on drugs is especially appalling because he casually dismissed his own pot smoking as "a sign that we were alive and in graduate school in that era."

Last month, he expressed admiration for Singapore's drug policy, which includes forcible testing of suspected drug users, long prison sentences for possession and mandatory execution of anyone caught with more than a specified amount. "They've been very draconian," Gingrich said, meaning it as a compliment.

Last year, Gingrich likewise put his characteristically reckless spin on criticism of the "Ground Zero mosque." Unlike Sarah Palin, who urged the project's supporters not to build it but conceded they had a constitutional right to do so, Gingrich insisted "there should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia" -- and called for state or federal intervention to enforce that arbitrary edict. He nevertheless presents himself as a champion of religious liberty.

Gingrich's apocalyptic view of the "long war" between "the modern world" and "radical Islamism" also has led him to endorse censorship and warrantless domestic wiretaps, along with the suspension of due process that many conservatives think is appropriate whenever the president cries "national security." And lest such constitutional violations be overturned, Gingrich recommends that Congress abolish the courts of judges who reach decisions it does not like, or simply declare its acts exempt from judicial review.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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