Categories: Featured, Politics, Tax Policy
The Republican contest staggers towards its first showdown in Iowa
Imagine if you will a latter day Rip Van Winkle awaking from a three month slumber only to be coarsely thrust in the front row at the latest of these endlessly recurring Republican debates.
Having shaken the cobwebs from his befogged head and readied it for the battering, he would surely be astonished to find that during his absence the former speaker of House, the dishonorable Newt Gingrich, had, if only for a short spell, managed to float well above his competitors in polls nationwide.
True, our Rip would have been spared the far-fetched, frankly bizarre drama of the intervening months. He will have thankfully avoided the grim spectacle of the Governor of Texas Rick Perry, the famed, perhaps coyote killer, rapidly ascending only to have his commodious chest quickly deflated by a thousand self inflicted, not to mention poorly timed fumbles of memory.
He will also have missed the Hermanator experience, the now quaint saga of a Cain raised, like the Pillsbury dough boy he was, from the warm embrace of a pizza oven for his fifteen minutes of belly poking. Mr. Cain, a self-styled leader if not much of a reader, called it quit not because his ignorance of foreign policy was farcical, but because he had failed to guard his tongue, not to say the snake in his pants, from roaming about the workplace. That 9-9-9 was a triple six after all.
Still, poor Rip would surely struggle to explain the Newt’s own serpentine trajectory. Here was Gingrich in November, a Lazarus miraculously reborn when at midsummer he lay buried with his shambolic campaign in complete disarray. And there he was by early December, shockingly high above his foes in the public’s affections, like a hoary cupid lifted on the flimsiest of wings shooting from a quiver full of garrulous nonsense.
Then, less than a week to Christmas, it was obvious that the Gingrich balloon had been called back to the frozen earth of Iowa in winter, the hot air swiftly siphoned out of it by a volley of well-pointed arrows worthy of a martial arts movie, and its pilot rudely cast down the newly minted Newt Chute. It is reported that, since the Newt’s improbable rise, Iowans have been exposed to more than 1200 commercials trashing the architect of the Contract with America.
As of last week, the former speaker’s damaged vehicle has been overtaken by, of all wobbly wagons, that of Ron Paul. The gnomish doctor has improbably caught that same recalcitrant wave of anyone-but-Mitt sentiment that first the Commodore, next Herman Cain, and finally the Newt himself had surfed on their way to a short lived advantage. It has kept the former Massachusetts governor’s flag stuck at quarter-mast since the start of the campaign.
But while his political fate has grown murky, the unexpected rise of the Newt has clearly been a boon to commentators nationwide. Newt watchers have fallen over themselves to offer words adequate to encompass Gingrich’s capacious ego and match his peerless bombast. They have documented his colorful behavior with the alacrity of ornithologists first sighting the great-billed red-tailed Australian cockatoo.
This is fitting. The candidate’s bloated head makes for an exceedingly fine target, and the more bizarre aspects of his extensive biography positively invite copious verbiage, ripe with pithy neologisms and pungent adjectives meet for a man ever eager for big new ideas, not to say fundamental transformation. So what if they don’t presently make sense? Neither do most of the former speaker’s pronouncements.
The temptation when it comes to the Newt then is always to coin still more qualifiers and see what sticks. One that oozes from the muck and seems particularly apt is amphibious. It of course puns on the speaker’s moniker, not to mention his oily smarminess, by referencing the lizard-like amphibian common in many continents. But, it also suggests Gingrich’s uncanny capacity for regeneration and, more to the point, his astounding ability to navigate both the clear air of reason and the muddy waters of total mystification.
You can file his sensible take on immigration policy or his proposal to expand nuclear energy in the reasonable drawer. His giant mirrors in orbit to ease the spookiness of nighttime driving, or all over the earth to deal with climate change, you can throw in the crazy drawer or, if you wish, in the trash along with his idea to tap the moon for mineral extraction and as a destination for, well, honeymoons.
So we already have a futurist Newt, a lunatic Newt and, really, why stop there? Gingrich is a whole village of Smurfs wrapped in one corpulent package. A recent favorite, though, has to be Newt the accidental Swiftian.
Gingrich could once have fairly been called Dickensian when he advocated in the mid-90s that the children of welfare recipients be placed in orphanages. He successfully trumped that one last month with his own modest proposal that “truly stupid” child labor laws be scrapped to allow poor kids to take over janitorial duties in schools. That would teach the little scamps the value of work and, as he put it, “fundamentally change the culture of poverty in America”. Suffer little children; the kingdom of heaven is gained through the lavatories.
Those Newtisms that don’t make it to the bracingly pragmatic or grandiosely loony bins often have the feel of the just tossed in, like a few sad radishes in a salad, usually in response to an opponent’s foray into new territory.
So it is with Gingrich’s tax provisions. Crafted or, rather, cobbled up on the tail of Cain’s catchy but vacuous 9-9-9 plan, it includes a 15% flat tax option, a decrease in the corporate income tax to 12.5% and, shockingly, an end to all capital tax gains. As Michael Mandel has shown in his fine assessment of the plan for The Atlantic, it would ensure not so much a trickle down from the richer to the poorer than a veritable gush up to the wealthiest.
But enough about the Newt: the man is a clown and it is possible he knows it. Then again, so are most of his foes under the big Republican tent, starting with the good Doctor Paul, a sinister Whiteface to Mr. Gingrich’s jocular Auguste, and the apostle of a miserly liberty, the freedom not to give a damn.
That would of course make Herman Cain this farcical court’s prancing jester, a role he’s shown himself a master at. To the redoubtable Michele Bachmann would go the trapeze bar for her ability to vault over the facts and contort the truth. As for Rick Perry, his rugged good looks and booming voice would have made for a dandy ringmaster if only he could be counted on to remember his opening lines.
This returns us inevitably to Mitt Romney, now back on top of the polls in volatile Iowa. While still notable for his garish flip-flops, which are largely to blame for his failure to close the deal with the more intransigent conservative voters, the former Bain executive is the only Republican candidate to have articulated, more or less and quite recently, a vision of what a post-Obama America would entail, one furthermore that would not involve a return to an eighteenth century of powdered wigs and silk stockings, or a space travel to a distant galaxy.
In a recent USA Today op-ed, Mr. Romney spells out the difference between the merit-based or “Opportunity Society” his administration would presumably return us to and what he calls the “Entitlement Society”which President Obama has apparently led us to:
In an Entitlement Society, government provides every citizen the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to innovate or take risk. In an Opportunity Society, free people living under a limited government choose whether or not to pursue education, engage in hard work, and pursue the passion of their ideas and dreams. If they succeed, they merit the rewards they are able to enjoy.
We’ll leave to others the task of pointing out the enormous share of crude caricature in this statement, part of what Paul Krugman has aptly called Romney’s “post-truth” campaign, which suggests that Mr. Obama has been engaged all along in the blatant socialist goal of redistribution from the worthy to the undeserving.
As Thomas Edsall rightly pointed out, there is little here that diverges from what is by now well chewed rightwing fodder, and nor is Mitt Romney alone in shoveling it out. It does suggest however that, by making his pitch to that conservative element closely tied to the Tea Party that sees the world as divided between workers and parasitic spongers, even as they themselves often benefit from government largesse, Mr. Romney has tacked hard to the right, as many predicted he would need to given his plateaued approval ratings.
What is of pointed interest in Mr. Romney’s vision, though, is actually the question it begs about opportunity and choice. Opportunity, by definition, must be taken. It implies readiness. What then of those who are unwilling, unable, or not ready to do so?
The unwilling, presumably young and able, can be compelled to grab their chance by a further ratcheting of the Welfare rules set into place by President Clinton, even if it would be unseemly to do so without simultaneously providing them with the education that Mr. Romney believes they must choose to pursue, apparently irrespective of its prohibitive cost.
But what of those who are unable because they are disabled or injured, sick or aged? What should we as Americans do with those? Are they not deserving of our Christian kindness? Should not at least some of the money garnered from our taxes go to assist them, especially as simple charity has often failed at the task?
There is little, as Thomas Edsall writes, of compassionate conservatism in the new Romney strategy, one that he now hammers at every campaign stop. We know, certainly, that Mr. Romney’s sympathy does not extend to his pet which is reported to have ridden shackled to the family car’s roof on trips due north from Massachusetts. Nor does it of course tender to the many, we assume hard-working, employees laid off by Bain & Company in its restructuring labors. Perhaps those unable to purchase a ticket on the great American gravy train should just ride on its roof.
Mr. Romney is not yet out of the kitchen, this despite the endorsements of just about every establishment figure in the Grand Old Party. But the battle lines for the coming election are now sharply drawn and it is likely that we’re rushing headlong, to echo Edsall, into a brutal ideological conflict that has will put the very definition of what it is to be an American on the table.