Newt Doth Bestride the Narrow World Like a Colossus
One World-Historical Figure’s 2012 Campaign to Transform America, Fundamentally
Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.
Newt Gingrich, “advocate of civilization,” “arouser of those who form civilization,” and “leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces,” (his words, not mine) is on a mission to fundamentally and profoundly transform America.
Newt has never been shy about his grand ambitions. “I want to shift the entire planet,” he declared to the Washington Post way back in 1985, “And I’m doing it.” Newt sees himself as “a transformational figure,” one who is “systematically purposeful about changing our world.”
In 1997 Newt was censured by the House Ethics Committee for claiming tax-exempt status for a nominally academic class called, appropriately enough, “Renewing American Civilization” at Kennesaw State College.
In its final report, the committee released documents that included notes handwritten by Newt just before his 1994 rise to power.
Among them are childlike sketches of stick figure Newts affecting change on the world as well as long megalomaniacal task lists.
On one, goals as loftily ambitious as “articulate the vision of civilizing humanity and recivilizing all Americans” and “define, plan and begin to organize the movement for civilization and the effort to transform our welfare state into an opportunity society” share space with goals as common as “diet, exercise, recreational renewal with Marianne” (wife number two, for those keeping score).
But for the last thirteen years this would-be world-historical figure has languished in a political wasteland, with nothing to do but write novels and offer Freddie Mac his humble services as a historian, to the tune of $1.6 million.
Now, at long last, like a Churchillian phoenix rising from the ashes of political exile to save a country on the brink of disaster, Newt sees the chance to strike the parenthetical “possibly” from the self-proclaimed title Leader of the Civilizing Forces.
Finally given his moment (possibly), what does Newt do to rescue his country? Not one to skimp on transformational grandiosity with his political life on the line, Newt has proposed the most radical of all Republican economic plans.
Newt one-ups his Republican competitors on the most radical elements of their platforms and throws the results together in a delicious anti-tax schmorgesborg of radical conservative platitudes.
Take a gander at Newt.org (like fellow world-historical figures Cher and Madonna, Newt has dispensed with the absurdity of second names), and you will bear witness to a sweeping plan of fundamental transformation.
First Newt proposes extending the Bush tax cuts in 2012, pretty much par for the course for a Republican candidate. Even Romney can get unwaveringly behind this one.
Then Newt moves on to the more radical elements of his plan. He wants to end the “death tax,” get rid of all capital gains taxes, and lower the corporate tax rate to 12.5%.
By comparison, Mitt Romney – the great corporatist – wants to keep capital gains taxes at their current levels and lower the corporate tax rate only to 25%, the level generally preferred by the rest of the developed world.
But why stop there with transformational change? Newt goes on to hawk a flat tax extreme enough to make Steve Forbes blush, proposing that America transition to a 15% optional flat tax. Even Rick Perry, never one to shirk from being absurd, suggested a flat tax of 20%.
But that’s not all! As the Washington Post reports, Newt goes much further than Perry:
What’s more, Gingrich preserves deductions for corporations and rich individuals that Perry eliminates: he preserves deductions for charitable giving and mortgage interest to all Americans, whereas Perry only keeps them for families earning less than $500,000. Perry vows to eliminate all corporate tax deductions, while Gingrich would preserve them. As such, corporations and the richest Americans could stand to benefit even more under Gingrich’s plan than Perry’s.
Phew! That’s enough to stop a bereft Cain conservatives from grieving over their beloved 9% sales tax.
All of this is fine and dandy as fodder for right-wing pipe dream machine, but the annoying thing about being a world-historical figure is that you actually have to accomplish things. And this ridiculous economic plan could never pass the Democratic Senate and probably wouldn’t even gain much traction in the Republican House, so detached from reality is it. As a former Speaker of the House Newt should know this.
Furthermore, barring some miraculous economic expansion, Newt’s plan would blow a transformational hole in the national budget ($1 trillion in a single year, to be precise). Maybe he wants to shut the government down for a second time, who knows.
And just look at the political stalemate the current budget problems have created. Could you imagine Washington, even one “recivilized” by the glory of Newt in the White House, operating under that sort of budgetary strain?
An article in the Atlantic gets at the core of Gingrich’s weakness as a leader: his solution to every problem is to “fundamentally” change the federal government. Rarely does he ever delve into the specific policies and annoying details that get Mitt Romney’s blood pumping but which must realistically be dealt with in order to solve our economic problems.
His predisposition to grandiosity,
Is a tick that often causes Gingrich to propose changes so absurdly unrealistic that no reform happens. And if he ever had the time, discipline or power to implement one of his schemes in full, the unintended consequences would be epic. He’d be a uniquely awful president, whether of a large corporation or the United States, accomplishing very little, and possibly mucking up a lot along the way.
The problem is that no policy prescription can exist merely as a solution to one of the country’s problems, but must also be in service to Newt’s vision of himself as a great world-historical figure. He favors sweeping change to specificity, amputation to surgery.
But I wouldn’t worry. Newt’s hot air bubble will surely burst. Never in his life has he demonstrated the patience, moderation, and knack for compromise that make a successful politician and a good President.
The last time he had power, as Speaker of the House, he so angered fellow Republicans that he was forced from his leadership position. Resigning from the House in a huff he declared, “I’m willing to lead but I’m not willing to preside over people who are cannibals.”
Luckily for us, it’s hard to civilize when you won’t go near the cannibals.