Newt Gingrich is the Tom Sawyer in the 2012 presidential narrative. There are legitimate reasons to support Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum (as there are to support Gingrich). Disputing Gingrich’s grand claims is not among them. The truth of Gingrich’s claim to having stood, and effectively, shouting Stop athwart a history hurtling toward socialism is indisputable.
One of Gingrich’ s rivals circulated a humorous compilation of quotes designed to poke fun at his grandiosity.
Gingrich on Gingrich:
“I Think I Am A Transformational Figure.” (PBS.org, 12/2/11)“I Am Essentially A Revolutionary.” (Adam Clymer, “House Revolutionary,” The New York Times, 8/23/92) “Philosophically, I Am Very Different From Normal Politicians … We Have Big Ideas.” (Andrew Ferguson, “What Does Newt Gingrich Know?” The New York Times, 6/29/11) “I Have An Enormous Personal Ambition. I Want To Shift The Entire Planet. And I’m Doing It. … I Represent Real Power.” (Lois Romano, “Newt Gingrich, Maverick On The Hill,” The Washington Post, 1/3/85)
Many of Gingrich’s liberal elitist enemies, such as the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, make similar attacks.
Gingrich can be convicted of an extraordinarily high self-regard. So can every presidential aspirant. That’s a feature, not a bug.
So: is Gingrich merely pretentious? Or is there merit to his claims?
There are two critical fails in a “Grandiosity Gambit” attack. One: The evidence is overwhelming that Gingrich’s claims of transformational achievement are true. Two: in self-regarding cleverness Gingrich displays some “endearing rapscallion” Tom Sawyer.Being a Tom Sawyeresque rascal, mischievous but lacking malice, is, to most people, more endearing than irritating. And it is as American as apple pie. Do we root for Coyote … or Roadrunner? Elmer Fudd… or Bugs? What’s up, Doc?
It is almost impossible not to develop a rooting interest for the clever, rascally, Tom Sawyer. To criticize harshly risks making the critic appear, like Tom’s half-brother Sid, priggish and petty. To disagree on the issues is all right. To criticize the persona is risky.
As Republican presidential candidates duke it out down here in Florida, the most visible measure of how they are doing is the crowd count. And by that very simple measure, Newt Gingrich is crushing his opposition. At an event Tuesday afternoon, more than 1,500 people showed up to rally for Mr. Gingrich. Later that evening, he stood before as many as 5,000 people, all applauding his surge toward the Republican nomination. And then on Wednesday, another 4,000 people.
Contrast that to Mitt Romney, who, according to polls, is roughly tied with Mr. Gingrich in the state. … Mr. Romney has not had a crowd with more than a couple hundred people since he arrived in the Sunshine State.
There is a warehouse of evidence that Gingrich’s accomplishments are as big as his claims. As noted here last week, the Club for Growth, one of the stauncher free market outposts, evaluates Gingrich in a 2012 Presidential White Paper thusly: “As a historical figure, it is undeniable that Newt Gingrich has played leading roles in some of the most important battles on behalf of economic growth and limited government in the last quarter century.”
Undeniable that Newt Gingrich has played leading roles in some of the most important battles on behalf of economic growth and limited government….
Gingrich plays a small but key role in J. Brian Smiths’ 2006 biography of House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes:
In 1979, a newly elected freshman class of GOP Congressmen arrived on Capitol Hill. They were members of a new breed of Republicans who were determined to make their party the majority party. … Joined by militant senior conservative Republicans and like-minded newer members, the new breed quickly secured surprising strength. The ringleader of this group of militants was Newton Leroy “Newt” Gingrich (R-GA).
Gingrich, a minority party backbencher, the ringleader of “this group of militants … determined to make their party the majority party”?
President Reagan (on whose White House staff it was this columnist’s privilege to serve as a junior official) virtually was unaware of Gingrich. This is insignificant: the branches of government rarely intertwine. Reagan’s first signature achievement was the passage of the big tax rate cut. Did Gingrich have, as he claims, a significant role in that passage (which sent tax rates tumbling, and, together with monetary reform, sent economic growth soaring, all over the world)?
Andrew Adonis and Tim Hames, in their 1994 book A Conservative Revolution?: The Thatcher-Reagan Decade In Perspective observe:
Still remembering the tax-revolt fever that had helped them win office in the first place, the Young Turks acclaimed the tax cut bill of 1981 …
The World War II generation of House Republicans disliked the younger generation’s tactics, but the Gingrich faction’s influence as growing. Kemp, Lott and Cheney all worked with COS [the Conservative Opportunity Society] from the beginning.”
The Gingrich Faction? From the beginning?The evidence of Gingrich’s veracity is far too extensive to present in full. But as a kind of pièce de résistance consider some insights by then-Rep. Vin Weber, recently featured by PBS Frontline from archival materials:
“Number one, he is very smart. …. Second of all, he really probably works harder than anyone in the Congress. If you’re smarter than most people and work harder than just about everybody else, it’s hard for you to fail. A lot of that explains Newt Gingrich.
“He’s not just rhetorical. He’s not just philosophical. He’s also highly practical. I think he’d make a great President, actually.”
These observations are of particular interest because now Weber is supporting Mitt Romney for president. He thus can be considered an “adverse witness.”
There is even an element of historical irony as Weber reflects back to the days when he and Gingrich were the “young turks.” Weber:
There was a group of young members in the 60s called [Romney’s Raiders] that were sort of the Young Turks of their day. [They were] probably more moderate Republicans at that time because that’s where the center of energy was in the Republican Party and the Congress in the late 60’s.
Romney’s Raiders? Moderate Republicans? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Weber articulates, definitively, the unifying thread in Gingrich’s vision, from the beginning of his public life to the 2012 campaign. And Weber appears to be saying that it was Gingrich who inculcated into the Congress an ethic comparable to Reagan’s:
His argument was that we need to talk about replacing the Liberal Welfare State with something. It’s going to be, number one, conservative, based on conservative principles rather than liberal principles of free markets, individual freedom, decentralization. They are a whole range of ideas that are conservative in opposition to what we have come to think of in twentieth century America as Liberal.
[It’s] opportunity as opposed to welfare; welfare being, in our view, synonymous with a dependency society. What we talked about doing was replacing that with a society that would actually give people opportunities to become independent. Society, as opposed to state, recognizing the dominant form of our culture is not governmental and that the most important centers of activity in society, if you will, are families, non-profit organizations and neighborhoods. The grand ascent of the state has been an abnormality, a move away from the norm… .
… You can really say that the one person who’s been saying for a long time, fifteen years or more, that that’s what we had to be thinking about was Newt Gingrich.
So. The record shows Gingrich to be the grand historic conservative he claims. And Gingrich’s vision is the diametric opposite of Barack Obama’s. Since the vast majority of Americans consider America to be on the wrong track … this matters. Gingrich, whatever his imperfections, is the only aspirant who can claim world historical transformational achievements. And having “the Rapscallion Factor” working for him just makes him the more exceptionally American.