Explaining ‘conservative’ pundit hysteria about Newt Gingrich

I just read a great post – “NRO and the day the music died,” by “The Cranky Housewife.” I recommend it. She uses the great old song “American Pie” as a launching pad to criticize the National Review for its editorial calling on GOP voters to choose anyone but Newt Gingrich.

As someone who has listened to Newt’s speeches and read his books for over twenty years, I agree with a recent statement by Victor Davis Hanson (emphasis is mine):

“Gingrich doesn’t deal well with criticism or with practical implementation — but 90 percent of his ideas are impressive and weighty. The other 10 percent are better unsaid.” (Read his entire post here.)

Hanson is the rare exception, however. Most pundits lack the self confidence that’s needed to make such a complimentary (albeit qualified) statement. As someone who has followed the “conservative” commentators for over a quarter of century, a little psychoanalysis is in order.

Even while Ronald Reagan was president, the political left kept winning, government kept getting larger. When GHWBush took over, the pace accelerated. Yes, it kept growing under Newt Gingrich’s tenure as speaker, but at least we got welfare reform – still the only entitlement that’s ever been reformed.

When George W. Bush was president and Dennis Hastert was speaker – government grew. Regulations increased. The tax code added almost too many pages to count.

So it seems to me that it can’t be easy to be a “conservative” pundit and feel good about yourself. Thirty years of failure. Thirty years of getting your butt kicked by the pro-government forces. When a man like Newt rises to the top of the polls, the pundit pack animals swarm. They’ve found someone to project their failures onto.

“If he would’ve been a better U.S. House Speaker,” they imply, all would be well. Don’t bother blaming the hundreds of Republican members of Congress who served then and since and who could’ve provided the necessary leadership after Newt’s departure. And oh my gosh, at all costs ignore completely Newt’s successor, Dennis Hastert, whose leadership was so bad the voters chose to replace him with Nancy Pelosi.

Newt has been a private citizen since January 1999. He has written books, founded think tanks, advised companies and organizations, given speeches – all aimed at creating an outline for (as one of his books was titled) “Real Change.” Newt left conservatives in the best shape they’ve ever been in when he exited public office thirteen years ago. Any present problems are the fault of “conservative” elected officials and commentators who have utterly failed as Newt says, to have an effective conversation with 300 million citizens.

Newt is one of those few political leaders in America who has any concept of the fact that moving public opinion is job one. He likes the Margaret Thatcher quote – first win the argument, and then win the vote.

A year ago Daniel Hannan, a British member of the European Parliament was a guest on an American talk show where he made a point that is apt for this topic. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript – altered only for readability – and the emphasis is my own.

Friedrich von Hayek addressed his book The Road to Serfdom famously to socialists in all parties.

Hayek also perceived the way in which political leaders tend to be keener on the centralization of power than the rest of us. There’s a wonderful line of Edmund Burke in his reflections on the French Revolution. Talking about the way in which people are wiser than the chattering classes – he said, “Because half a dozen crickets concealed beneath a fern; make the field ring with their importunate chink while thousands of great cattle chew the cud in the shade of the great British oak and are silent. Pray do not imagine that those who make all the noise are the only inhabitants of the field.”

In this country, as in mine, as everywhere else, people are wiser than their leaders. I will always repose my trust in the oxen rather than the grasshoppers.

It’s clear to me that the most pressing conscious or unconscious weight on the political right’s chattering class is that they have utterly failed to accomplish anything when it comes to limiting government or advancing a freer free market. No successes. None at all.

It’s too soon to know whether Republican primary voters will choose Newt as their nominee. If they don’t, I fear conservatives will continue to fail. If government continues to grow, folks like the editors of the National Review, George Will, and Glenn Beck might want to begin shopping for a therapist. Their mental health will no doubt track along with the country’s economic and social decline.