Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Why I don't think Gingrich is a true, limited govt conservative

Newt Gingrich is toward the top of the pack again. I believe this is because Romney is really looking too moderate for many conservatives to swallow, so they are looking for someone that is a true conservative. They are willing to overlook his past indiscretions because they feel that Newt is not only a real conservative, but that his debating skills make him a perfect match against Obama (the real goal of many Republicans: Anyone, anything but Obama).

The problem is that his record and many of his statements in the past don't reflect a true, limited govt conservative. Though I don't blame conservatives for being misled, Gingrich knows exactly what conservatism is and how to sell it. So with this upswing in support for Newt, I wanted to put together my thoughts on him at the moment and why I think conservatives need to be real careful about what they think they will get in Newt.

Newt Gingrich is a very well educated man. He has an extensive knowledge of history and uses (and sometimes abuses) that history to make compelling points for conservatism. However, is he a true conservative? The core philosophy of conservatism is limited govt that gets out of the way and allows the free market to work. Federalism, allowing the individual states to deal with the vast majority of problems, is a primary tenant of conservatism - so much so that it is enshrined in the Constitution in the 9th and 10th amendments.

So when Gingrich proposes methods to deal with problems, most domestic solutions should involve placing authority and autonomy in the hands of the states to deal with these problems right? After all, that's what he did with welfare in the 90's wasn't it?

Yet there are a lot of people that do not support Gingrich. Many conservative groups claim he isn't truly conservative. Even famous conservatives like Glenn Beck recognize that Newt Gingrich has some very progressive/liberal views and philosophy to him.
“My problem with Newt Gingrich is he is a progressive, and I will say exactly the same thing that I say about Barack Obama. Barack Obama is a liar. And I believe Newt Gingrich is a liar,” Glenn said.
So what is it that makes people think that Gingrich could be a wolf in sheep's clothing?

Firstly, before getting into specific policy, what is Newt's philosophy? Can we get an idea of that? Well, based on many of the things he says about limited govt and the free market, one might think that he's a standard, true conservative. However, let's look at some of the things that Newt has said that seem to expose a different view of society.

Many people have heard Glenn Beck go on about how bad Progressives of the late 19th and early 20th century were. One whom he most criticizes is President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was an ardent Progressive and imperialist. 
Domestically, his views were very much based on the idea that govt should be involved in trying to shape society into an ideal vision. He profoundly changed the nature of our govt from having a balanced Executive and Legislative branches to having a significantly dominant Executive branch. He pushed through the Constitutional amendment for a national income tax. He helped create the Federal Reserve under the auspice that it would help "stabilize" the economy. He pushed for significantly expanded role of govt in controlling, regulating and restricting business. His primary economic advisor and Supreme Court appointee, Louis D. Brandeis, was strongly anti-business. Internationally, while he paid lip service to national self-determination in his campaign, his actions were very imperialistic and reflected nation-building. He believed that the US was special and that we have a responsibility to try to shape other countries, sometimes through force if necessary, to match our values. With the worthy notion of democracy as his goal, he intervened and, in several instances, occupied other nations.

Basically, President Wilson should be one of the least favorite Presidents in history to conservatives. So what does Gingrich think of him? Watch the video.
Gingrich calls himself a Wilsonian?! As far as understanding his political philosophy, that should give one a great deal of concern about his true conservatism.

Notice also that he praises the Four Freedoms. Those were conveyed by Franklin Roosevelt - the authoritarian Democrat President whose policies and thug-like tactics helped draw out the Great Depression for over a decade - that represent what he felt were the essential freedoms which every human should have. The Four Freedoms are:
  1. Freedom of speech
  2. Freedom of religion
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear
Note the difference in the preposition there ('of' and 'from'). These mark the difference between negative and positive rights. A negative right is a protection against the actions of others to hinder you from something - that is, a negative right forbids others from acting against the right holder. A positive right is a guarantee of something that must be provided by someone else - that is, a positive right obligates others to act with respect to the right holder. The US Constitution is full of negative rights which prohibit the govt from infringing upon. Meanwhile, many liberals/democrats advocate positive rights: you have a right to an education, a right to health insurance, a right to own a home/car, many are even pushing internet access as a right. Note that these positive rights require, should you not be able to attain them yourself, that someone else provide you with these things.

The last two freedoms on that list are positive rights. Rights, usually, to be provided by govt. Conservatives should know the dangers of positive rights and especially with the notion that having things constitutes a "freedom". Yet here is Gingrich heralding these freedoms as being the goal of good govt. Strike two in understanding his political philosophy.

What about President Franklin Roosevelt? Anyone who has studied the Great Depression and the New Deal understand that FDR is pretty much as far on the opposite end of the political spectrum from a true conservative as one can get without entering Nazi Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union. So it would surprise many to hear Gingrich's fondness for FDR:
Steve Gunderson today gave me a copy of the "Portable Abraham Lincoln." He suggested there is much for me to learn about our party, but I would also say that it does not hurt to have a copy of the portable F.D.R.
That I think the greatest Democratic President of the 20th century, and in my judgement the greatest President of the 20th century, said it right in March 4th, 1933 ... "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
If you truly believe in representative self-government, you can never study Franklin Delano Roosevelt too much. He did bring us out of the Depression.  He did lead the Allied movement in World War II. In many ways he created the modern world. He was clearly, I think, as a political leader the greatest figure of the twentieth century. And I think his concept that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, that we'll take an experiment, and if it fails, we'll do another one - and if you go back and read the New Deal, they tried again and again. They didn't always get it right, and we would have voted against much of it, but the truth is, we would have voted for much of it.
This is almost disqualifying in and of itself. For me, this is strike three. Is there more?

Other progressive politicians from the late 19th and early 20th centuries include President Theodore Roosevelt and Robert La Follette. These two were both vocal and publicly declared "Progressives". They were also both ardent reformers who both sought to use govt as a means to pursue "equality". They, like many liberals today, generally saw big corporations as inherently bad and used govt to restrict and/or break them up. They supported the creation of regulatory agencies to police businesses and sided with unions over employers. Conservatives should be disturbed by most of their policies. So what does Gingrich think of them? Watch the video.
Perhaps he was just talking about reform against corruption. But La Follette and Roosevelt aren't exactly squeaky clean. To give you an idea of Roosevelt's approach, perhaps his best known line was "Speak softly and carry a big stick". Meanwhile La Follette, as Governor of Wisconsin, who had the authority to nominate a state Senator (which at that time were basically approved by the state legislature as Supreme Court judges are today), nominated himself, left the Senate seat vacant until he had basically finished his term as Governor, then resigned the Governorship and assumed the position as US Senator. This is starting to be more than just a few isolated anomalies, moments where he simply misspoke, or quotes taken out of context. This is looking like a pattern.

In 1964, the Republican party was in a similar situation to today. The party was somewhat split between a conservative faction and a moderate/liberal faction. When the Republican primaries came, the conservatives were represented by Barry Goldwater, the moderate-liberals were represented by Nelson Rockefeller. A conservative Constitutionalist should have supported Barry Goldwater. But who did Gingrich support? Watch the video.
Gingrich was supporting the Romney of 45 years ago.

Alvin Tofller is a futurist. Big ideas about the future. He wrote a book called The Third Wave that describes the shift of the United States into an information society. While that may seem nonpolitical, his view of what that future will look like is very non-conservative. He believes that the US Constitution and the idea of national sovereignty must be done away with in order for a global society to emerge. Toffler has said:
The system of government you fashioned, including the principles on which you based it, is increasingly obsolete, and hence increasingly, if inadvertently, oppressive and dangerous to our welfare. It must be radically changed and a new system of government invented---a democracy for the 21st century. ... [The Constitution has] served us so well for so long, and that now must, in its turn, die and be replaced.
Gingrich has not only mentioned Toffler multiple times in multiple settings, has not only put The Third Wave on the Republicans "Required Reading" list, has not only been life long friends of the Tofflers, but actually wrote the forward and helped promote Toffler's book. And lest you think that perhaps there are merely friends but that they differ significantly on political philosophy, Gingrich has said:
The American challenge in leading the world is compounded by our Constitution… either we are going to have to rethink our Constitution, or we are going to have to rethink our process of making decisions
Another conservative complaint about Gingrich is that he was a paid lobbyist for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae; the two Govt Sponsored Enterprises (GSE) that played a major role in the housing bubble that led to the 2008 economic crisis. GSEs are a public/private chimera. They are part govt, part corporation. One might think they are a great thing: a profit motive that encourages thrift, efficiency, and speed while still retaining the transparency and responsibility of govt. But unfortunately the reverse is true: corporate greed with the lack of responsibility and accountability of govt. When one looks at some of the things he said about these entities even up into 2008 just before things went bad, he again doesn't sound very conservative. The following quotes came from an interview in 2008:
I recognize that there are times when you need government to help spur private enterprise and economic development,
And then there are areas in which a public purpose would be best achieved by using market-based models. I think GSEs provide one of those models. I like the GSE model because it provides a more efficient, market-based alternative to taxpayer-funded government programs. It marries private enterprise to a public purpose. We obviously don't want to use GSEs for everything, but there are times when private enterprise alone is not sufficient to achieve a public purpose.
We should be looking at whether and how the GSE model could help us address the problem of financing health care. I think a GSE for space exploration ought to be seriously considered – I'm convinced that if NASA were a GSE, we probably would be on Mars today. 
This type of talk could have easily (and frequently has) come out of the mouth of a Democrat. It pays lip service to the free market/private sector, but also touts that govt should be involved in some (undefined) things. As conservatives know, most of the time the degree of that govt involvement goes a lot further than is implied initially. In that same interview, he also said, "But I am more in the Alexander Hamilton-Teddy Roosevelt tradition of conservatism." We've already talked about Teddy Roosevelt, but Alexander Hamilton was one of the first progressives (or at the very least, one of the first big govt conservatives). Advocating for a strong central govt, he fought against the limited govt Antifederalists on issues like national debt, a central bank, and a strong national govt to "help" business and industry grow.

Gingrich has too many blatant and inexcusable quotes that belie a significant progressive, big govt philosophy behind his politics. It almost makes one wonder if he isn't using the rhetoric of conservatism to get elected while truly being a progressive liberal. One is an exception, two is an anomaly, three is a trend, 6 or 7 (I've lost count and haven't mentioned everything) goes beyond a mere pattern and reflects the reality of his philosophy.

But what about his deeds? Surely his actions while Speaker and before make up for a somewhat progressive, big govt philosophy. Let's take a look at just a few of them.

Balanced Budgets
This one bothers me because I researched it back when Clinton democrats were taking credit for balanced budgets in the late 90s. Now, in debates, interviews and speeches, Newt is the one proclaiming that he pushed through 4 consecutive balanced budgets as Speaker. Well, let's look at that. He was Speaker from Jan '95 - Jan '99. So his budgets would have been 1996-1999. What do the facts say? If you look at the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) data, it would seem to show a half truth: 2 of the 4 years appear to be balanced.
Click on image to view larger

Still, 2 years is pretty good right? We hadn't had a balanced budget for decades prior to that. So this should still be a positive for Gingrich right?

Well, maybe.

Govt does a great deal to try to fake and obfuscate reality. Politicians will try all sorts of contortions to get you to believe they did X when they really did Y. The real problem with unbalanced budget - that is deficits - is the accumulated debt it creates. So what does the debt tell us? Looking at the Treasury dept data, something confusing appears.
Click on image to view larger

For all 4 budgetary years he lead, the debt grew! Confused? Don't be. Look in that first chart. See how it shows debt held by the public and that it went down? Notice that's a different number than we see in the Treasury data? That's because the CBO data isn't the whole story. The truth is, govt debt is made up of several parts. Debt held by the public is just one part. Another part is intragovernmental debt (debt that one part of govt owes to another part of govt). If we look at that, we see that it grew significantly during those 4 years. So basically, govt added debt from one account, to pay down another account and claim they had a surplus. It's like paying off one credit card with another credit card and claiming you reduced your debt.

Beyond that, let's keep in mind that the mid 1990s were an explosive time for the economy. Technology and computers were drastically expanding into professional and consumer markets. We were in the heyday of the dotCom bubble. Newt himself talks about how the CBO projected how the budget couldn't be balanced in 10 years and the Republicans were uncertain if they could do so in 7 years. So how did it supposedly happen in 2 years? Explosive economic growth that led to higher than anticipated revenue for the govt. Look at that first CBO data again. Notice that not one budget got smaller? Gingrich, who talks about cutting spending in every speech, interview and debate, somehow convinced conservatives that through strength and determination (and implicitly through making tough budget cut decisions), he balanced the budget, not once, not twice, but 4 consecutive times. But the fact is, every single budget that the Gingrich house passed was larger than the last. In fact, in 2000, looking back at the effectiveness of the Contract with America, Forbes magazine said, "The combined budgets of the 95 major programs that Newt’s Contract with America promised to eliminate, have increased by 13%... over the years. [Since then] the Republican controlled Congress has approved discretionary spending that exceeded Bill Clinton’s requests."

The truth is, the economy exploded due to technology commoditization that had little to do with Gingrich. The increased revenue allowed the Republicans the luxury of being able to avoid making any tough budget cut choices and still claim they had balanced the budget. And it makes me uncertain about how he would handle a situation like today where tough decisions do need to be made, because the economy is certainly not exploding now. To me, Newt's claim of any balanced budgets, let alone 4 consecutive, is, disingenuous and misleading at best, and does very little to reassure me of his conservative pedigree - in fact, it makes me feel he's just another politician willing to say anything, even lie, to get elected.

Other Actions
In the interest of time and patience, I'm going to just fly threw many of these.

Part of Ronald Reagan's campaign in 1979 was to end the recently created Department of Education. This unconstitutional incursion of the federal govt into education was a significant assumption of power by the federal govt. This creation of Jimmy Carter has been the constant target of conservatives and its failures and waste has been well documented. Nevertheless, Gingrich voted with President Carter  (there are several other nuggets about Newt in that link) in 1979 for the establishment of the Federal Department of Education.

The Fairness Doctrine was an FCC policy that required that broadcasters to present "balanced" views of "controversial" topics. I quote those words because what constituted "balanced" and "controversial" were significantly vague and up to interpretation - by the FCC. Most broadcasters simply avoided controversial topics altogether rather than face the risk of being accused of not being "balanced". Thus the rule had a smothering effect on speech and the exchange of ideas and contradictory or controversial viewpoints. However, in 1987, the FCC officially eliminated the rule. Reacting to this, Congress, led by Democrats in the House tried to reinstitute the rule. Surprisingly, numerous Republicans not only voted for the bill, but cosponsored it. Among those Republicans that supported reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine was Newt Gingrich.

In 1994 Gingrich led the Republicans to their first majority in Congress in 40 years. He accomplished this through a strong advocacy for limited govt conservatism. However, before he even took the gavel as Speaker, Gingrich worked with President Clinton to push (through a lame duck Congress with a Democrat majority) the creation of the World Trade Organization. The WTO defines the rules and regulations of international trade and while conservatives feel it assumes too much of what should be US sovereignty, it has critics that transcend just conservatives. It is primarily encouraged by those who advocate globalization and centralized regulation/control. If you think the WTO is not a significant thing, consider what Gingrich himself said during the debates about it in 1994:
I am just saying that we need to be honest about the fact that we are transferring from the United States at a practical level significant authority to a new organization. This is a transformational moment. I would feel better if the people who favor this would just be honest about the scale of change. 
I agree ... this is very close to Maastrict [the European Union treaty by which the EU member nations have surrendered considerable sovereignty], and twenty years from now we will look back on this as a very important defining moment. This is not just another trade agreement. This is adopting something which twice, once in the 1940s and once in the 1950s, the U.S. Congress rejected. I am not even saying we should reject it; I, in fact, lean toward it. But I think we have to be very careful, because it is a very big transfer of power.
The fact that Gingrich, after just having won majority by advocating strong conservatism, turned around and voted for this reduction of national sovereignty is telling.

The death penalty is a controversial issue. Even Republicans, typically strict in their application of justice, are split on whether the death penalty moral, whether it is a good method to discourage crime, and whether the application of the penalty is just. Republicans, largely composed of Christians, typically hold life to be sacred and even the sinner, the thief and the murderer as worthy of God's forgiveness. Nevertheless, Gingrich advocated the death penalty for mere possession of more than 2oz of marijuana when entering the country as a federal crime. While this position may not be non-conservative persay, it does reflect a greater vision of the power of the federal govt.

I've talked about how Gingrich comes across as having the same philosophical view of the role of govt as liberals: a tool to shape society as they see fit. The difference between liberal progressives and Gingrich is not that they view the role of govt differently, but simply that their vision for what society should look like and what means govt uses to get there, is different. Another huge complaint of conservatives about Obama was his stimulus bill he passed when he first came into office. As the stimulus was passed, Gingrich came out and railed against it, but NOT because he was philosophically opposed to the idea of the stimulus, but because he didn't like where Obama had allocated the money. In this video, Gingrich praises Obama for his
Health care spending by the govt, and the overall costs of health care in the United States has become a major issue in the last several years. During the push to pass a health care reform bill later known as Obamacare, the ire of conservatives was raised by the various unconstitutional intrusions into individual or states rights. Conservatives rightfully saw that part of the increased cost of health care was due to govt getting involved in medicine and health insurance in the decades prior. Gingrich has been at the forefront of much in the way of health care reform. In fact, he founded the Center for Health Transformation (note again the use of "Transformation"). His views and approaches to problems like heath care is not based in traditional or conservative free market principles; it's not about simply getting govt out of the way of the market, but is instead about systemic transformation of the market into something he approves of. 

One of the major complaints of conservatives about Obamacare was the prospect of the individual mandate. This mandate was a requirement that all individuals must purchase health insurance. True conservatives saw this as a massive incursion into freedom on the part of the federal govt that runs counter to the restrictions of the Constitution. Gingrich, however, sees this as necessary and proper for govt to do and he's said so on multiple occasions.
And there are dozens of more quotes (see 'Gingrich in his own words') of him supporting an individual mandate. If Gingrich supports the individual mandate, why exactly does he want to repeal Obamacare? And what exactly does he want to replace it with? More generally, what does it say about Gingrich's view of the role and limits of the federal govt if he thinks that an individual mandate was not only a good idea, but Constitutionally sound?

Most are already familiar with Gingrich's work regarding global warming. His commercial with Nancy Pelosi earned him lots of criticism. Though he regretted it and said it was the dumbest mistake he's ever made, I've never heard whether he considered it a mistake because he doesn't really agree with the policies or because it was a dumb political move? It seems more likely to be the latter since he agrees with the consensus science and at one point supported a version of cap and trade. He now supports a more free market approach to dealing with global warming, but he actually challenged John Kerry to a debate about global warming. Conservatives were salivating at the prospect of having the intelligent and sharp Gingrich against the stumbling Kerry. Gingrich then shocked conservatives by, at the very beginning of the debate, conceding the point about global warming, the human cause, the disaster to come, and said he only wanted to debate possible ways to deal with it.

In 2008, the economic crisis hit. Politicians were scared to death that some of the policies they supported and advocated may have helped cause the problem. They were running around trying to figure out who else they could blame and how they could stop the bleeding. The consensus began to fall on TARP. This bailout of banks and other financial entities that had bad mortgages, debt and other securities was deemed "necessary" to keep the system, if not the entire global economy, from complete collapse. Only those true conservatives that recognize the power of the free market and understand that facing the consequences of bad decisions is a necessary part of mitigating risk in an economy, stood opposed to it. Even our "conservative" President George W. Bush fell for it and after he supported it, claimed, "I've abandoned free market principles to save the free market system." Was Gingrich one of those few believers in the free market? No, in 2008, he said, "I said this morning if I had been in the Congress, I would have hated it, it makes me very angry, but I would have voted yes."

I'm losing motivation to continue to dredge through the list of items on Gingrich. I haven't even mentioned his longstanding membership in the Council on Foreign Relations, his support of liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava over the truly conservative Doug Hoffman, quotes like "The American challenge in leading the world is compounded by our Constitution…Either we are going to have to re-think our Constitution or we are going to have to re‑think our process of making decisions.” There are literally dozens of statements, positions, votes, and memberships that Gingrich has undertaken that demonstrate a very un-conservative philosophy and approach to him.

What others have said
The conservative group The John Birch Society put together this half hour long video about Newt Gingrich and just how far removed from traditional conservatism - conservatism of small, limited govt - he is.

Murray Rothbard was a libertarian economist/historian/writer who pointed out whenever politicians and govt   were in contradiction with freedom. While a libertarian and a conservative will not always agree on the proper role of govt, Rothbard wrote a scathing article about Gingrich, castigating him for many of his actions that were most definitely not advocating limited govt.

The Phony Right Wing (Part 1Part 2 (Newt, Toffler, Third Wave))

The Free Republic

Gingrich in his own words demonstrates through quotes and videos of Gingrich, his view of govt not as an impartial referee, but as being a tool to shape society.

Parting thought experiment
Let me leave you with this last thought experiment.

Those of you that still want to vote for Gingrich because you still fervently feel that he's the best hope for saving the US; those that feel that he will set us on the right path; those that think he will implement creative solutions that will right the ship of state after the actions of Obama, on what do you base that? Are you basing that on his conservative positions or his conservative rhetoric?

Gingrich talks about profound change and big ideas, but most of his campaigning is about rhetoric and generalities. For example, he talks about overhauling regulatory agencies from being about "No, because..." to a more productive, results oriented approach of "Yes, if..."
If we can get people to say, “Yes, you could do that if” instead of “No, that will not work because” it changes the psychological dynamic of the argument. If you present a new idea and someone says “No”, you instinctively lose energy. Now you’ve got to win an argument over the “No” before you can get to the argument over the “Because” before you even get to start talking positively. However, if someone says “Yes” you automatically gain energy and immediately start thinking of creative ideas to answer the questions posed by the complexity of new ideas.
This is all well and good, but this type of rhetoric is not specifics. This doesn't get to the meat of what exactly he would change and how. For those of you that still wish to support Gingrich because of his (often creative) conservative proposals to fix things, let me ask you:

  • What is his plan for the EPA and environmental issues?
  • What are his recommendations for NASA and the future of govt involvement in space exploration?
  • What is his approach for handling campaign finance?
  • What would he change about the FCC and broadcasting, communications and the internet?
  • Would he modify the SEC regulations on financial businesses? How?
  • What would he change about the Federal Department of Education?
  • What would he do about the housing crisis?
  • Does he plan to modify the FDA at all?
  • He's mentioned that he would repeal Obamacare. What would he do about healthcare instead?
  • What would he do about college tuition costs and federal student aid for higher education?
  • What is his plan for dealing with global warming?
  • What is his view of Govt Sponsored Enterprises now?
  • What specifically would he do with respect to international trade?
  • How would he modify tariffs? 
  • What would he do regarding immigration?
If you can answer all of these questions without looking up the answers, then impressive. I still think you should be cautious in trusting that he would do what he says he would do. But you do have a strong knowledge of his policies and therefore if you still feel his positions are conservative and still wish to vote for him, then go ahead.

If, however, you struggle to answer most of those, this is not surprising. Gingrich talks in general conservative principles, but often skips the details of the specific policies. Let me ask you: is it possible that Gingrich's rhetoric of conservatism is blinding you to really investigating his proposals in detail? Could his general description of conservatism be making you neglect to truly interrogate his policies? Or even worse, is it possible that he be running on conservative rhetoric and promises, but, in reality, has a philosophy of the role of govt that most conservatives would disagree with?

Newt Gingrich's campaign has been self-described as being about "big ideas, big solutions, and a big vision for America". These ideas generally seem to involve govt incentivizing or penalizing some behavior. While his ideas are usually more clever than a straightforward prohibition, mandate or tax credit/penalty, it is still the same underlying theme.

Newt Gingrich sees the role of govt as a tool to shape society. The only real difference between him and the democrats is not whether he would use govt, but simply how he would use it. 

To me, it is ironic that Newt criticizes Paul Ryan's Social Security recommendations as "right wing social engineering" when Newt himself prescribes that exact type of engineering with many of his policies like, for example, his policies to deal with global warming. So to me, supporting Newt is a HUGE risk. He speaks well about conservative principles, but he has a lot of underlying philosophy that appears to be progressive and very unconservative. Conservatives constantly find themselves in trouble because they elect Republican candidates who talk about conservative principles, but then get into office and actually end up expanding govt. Would it be the same with Newt? I fear it might. Or might his approach to governing be a "pragmatic" one, in which you have to sacrifice principles in order to get things done? Whatever your own answers, I hope I have at least convinced you that he is not necessarily the strong, consistent conservative that he is often portrayed as.

No comments :

Post a Comment