Gingrich yesterday: “Is capitalism really about the ability of a handful of rich people to manipulate the lives of thousands of other people and walk off with the money?”
Me at breakfast today: WOW. Potent rhetoric … Gingrich?? … hilarious … pathetic. Aggrieved, cornered Newt is desperately channeling . . . what exactly?
Gingrich went on: “I want free enterprise that is honest. I want a free enterprise system that is accountable.”
Alas, we have here a monumental problem of incongruence. My factcheck confirmed that three of Gingrich campaign’s top five economic policies are to extend the Bush tax cuts, eliminate capital gains taxes, and roll back market regulations against bank speculation and pollution. His few democratic reformist planks are buried beneath the “mainstream conservative” Republican package, which I call “back to the 19th century.” Gingrich wants to strengthen the dollar (?!?), and he lauds Congressional Republicans for thwarting the Consumer Financial Bureau and the President’s moderate nominee Cordray (?!?).
Newt’s zinger could have real edge — with a different messenger and different policies. It won’t stick against his own positions and South Carolina’s pro-business Republicans. Too bad: the notion of an accountable free enterprise system is a principle capable of anchoring the rhetoric and building a campaign around. Coming from Gingrich now, it’s a sad joke. It need not be, and we should think about that. Realizing a democratic opportunity society — with access for all, truly competitive markets, minimum national standards, and a premium on hard work and individual responsibility — will take something much more profound.
But the sudden attack from the left points out a major vulnerability of candidate Romney. Thus far, Mitt’s main promise has been prospective, in his potential to restore confidence and optimism: understanding business and market psychology, Romney could succeed (where Obama has stumbled) in emulating the successful recovery leadership of Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton. But with Republican policies that de-industrialize the economy and automate the workplace, what good is market confidence? You boost profits — and immiserate the people.
Reverse the notion of Romney as mainstream candidate: Republicans and conservatives will grumble but ultimately get behind Romney. But it’s hard to imagine such narrow economic vision winning more than 45% of the vote in these times. Depressed turnout, third party runs, and/or incumbent predominance look more likely to characterize foreseeable horse race scenarios. There will be room for others to substantiate Gingrich’s message. This in turn will push Romney, Obama and others to compete over populist themes with moderate and socially progressive economic policy planks, each awkwardly and with solutions of the “lite” variety.
1. Tom Raum, “Romney’s practices split GOP,” Associated Press, Wisconsin State Journal, 12 January 2012.
2. Newt 2012. Solutions: Jobs and the economy.