On Saturday, David Fahrenthold wrote that “more than a year after Republicans first pledged to ‘repeal and replace’ President Obama’s new health-care law, the GOP is still struggling to answer a basic question. Replace it . . . with what?”
This shouldn’t be such a problem. Health care is a big issue. It’s been around a long time. The Republican Party should, in 2011, have a position on it. To understand why it doesn’t, it’s worth reading Newt Gingrich’s April 2006 comments on then-Gov. Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts reforms.
“The most exciting development of the past few weeks is what has been happening up in Massachusetts,” wrote Gingrich, or someone speaking for Gingrich, in his “Newt Notes” newsletter. “The health bill that Governor Romney signed into law this month has tremendous potential to effect major change in the American health system. We agree entirely with Governor Romney and Massachusetts legislators that our goal should be 100% insurance coverage for all Americans. … Individuals who can afford to purchase health insurance and simply choose not to place an unnecessary burden on a system that is on the verge of collapse; these free-riders undermine the entire health system by placing the onus of responsibility on taxpayers.”
In 2006, in other words, the Republican Party had an alternative to Obamacare. The only problem? It was Obamacare.
Between 1990 and 2007, the reigning Republican theory of health-care reform was that instead of handing the health-care system over to the government, they would put private insurers and personal responsibility at the core of their health-care reforms. During this period, everyone from Bob Dole to Jim DeMint to the Heritage Foundation endorsed this approach. But then Democrats, looking for a compromise, endorsed those same plans. And then Republicans, rather than pocketing the policy win, ran from their own ideas.
But insofar as the Republican Party had a plan for health-care reform, the individual mandate was it. That’s why Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, and Jon Huntsman either passed, endorsed, or expressed openness to an individual mandate. And that’s why Romney hasn’t paid for his plan: Almost every other serious candidate for the Republican nomination supported an individual mandate, too. It’s hard for Gingrich to take a clear shot at Romney for proposing what Gingrich called “the most exciting development” in health-care reform.
It’s also why the Republican Party can’t figure out an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act was their alternative. Now they need an alternative to the alternative. But there are only so many policy approaches that make sense as an answer to our health-care problems. And Republicans have pretty much run out of them.
By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, December 27, 2011
Newt Gingrich’s brief turn as presidential front-runner was only the latest paroxysm of a tumultuous Republican primary season. What’s going on? Tensions within the Tea Party help explain the volatility of the Republican primary campaign, as candidates seek to appeal to competing elements of the Tea Party with varying success.
For our new book, “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” we interviewed Tea Party activists across the country over a sixteen-month period and found that the movement is not the monolith it is sometimes portrayed as. The conservative political upsurge has grassroots and elite components with divergent interests and goals. Mitt Romney, no favorite of the Tea Party grassroots, is currently pitching his candidacy to Tea Party elites, while Newt Gingrich and other contenders are vying for the rank-and-file Tea Party supporters.
We learned about grassroots Tea Party groups by attending their meetings, interviewing active members and reading hundreds of their websites and message boards. In early 2011, these Tea Partiers had no consistent favorite for the Republican nominee, supporting everyone from Ron Paul to Mike Huckabee to Donald Trump, but they did have one goal in mind for 2012: beating Barack Obama. As one Tea Party member we met in Virginia put it, “we have to get Obama out. Obama and the Communists he’s surrounded himself with.”
In recent weeks, Gingrich has reached out to these grassroots Tea Party voters, older white middle-class conservatives who remember him from his glory days as an insurgent Democrat slayer. Gingrich’s aggressive style and blistering critiques of the Democrats resonate with Tea Party voters. Gingrich has accused Democrats of socialist tendencies for decades; as early as 1984, he claimed that a Democratic member of the House of Representatives was distributing “communist propaganda.”
But Gingrich has also tapped into what we identified as Tea Partiers’ most fundamental concern: their belief that hardworking American taxpayers are being forced to foot the bill for undeserving freeloaders, particularly immigrants, the poor and the young. Young people “just feel like they are entitled,” one member of the Massachusetts Tea Party told us. A Virginia interviewee said that today’s youth “have lost the value of work.”
These views were occasionally tinged with ethnic stereotypes about immigrants “stealing” from tax-funded programs, or minorities with a “plantation mentality.” When Gingrich talks about “inner-city” children having “no habits of working,” he is appealing to a widely held sentiment among the Tea Party faithful.
What’s more, Gingrich’s comparatively humane stance on immigration reform — offering immigrants a path to legal status with the approval of local community members — is more palatable to Tea Party members than one might expect. First, it reduces federal authority over a key Tea Party issue, a policy that appeals to the “states’ rights” conservatives who fill the seats at Tea Party meetings. Crucially, Gingrich is not offering, as Rick Perry did, taxpayer-funded benefits to unauthorized immigrants, a policy described by one Tea Party activist we spoke to as money wasted on “moochers.”
Immigration was always a central, and sometimes the central, concern expressed by Tea Party activists, usually as a symbol of a broader national decline. Asked why she was a member of the movement, a woman from Virginia asked rhetorically, “what is going on in this country? What is going on with immigration?” A Tea Party leader in Massachusetts expressed her desire to stand on the border “with a gun” while an activist in Arizona jokingly referred to an immigration plan in the form of a “12 million passenger bus” to send unauthorized immigrants out of the United States.
In a survey of Tea Party members in Massachusetts we conducted, immigration was second only to deficits on the list of issues the party should address. Another man, after we interviewed him in the afternoon, took us aside at a meeting that evening to say specifically that he wished he had said more about immigration because that was really his top issue.
Tea Party activists are not uniformly opposed to government social programs, however. Our interviewees were very anxious that Social Security and Medicare be maintained. “I’ve been working since I was 16 years old, and I do feel like I should someday reap the benefit. I’m not looking for a handout. I’m looking for a pay out of what I paid into,” one Tea Party member explained. Their support for these programs was not just self-interested; several Tea Partiers said they would take a benefit cut if the savings stayed in the Social Security fund. One woman, a regular attendee of her local Tea Party, offered solutions that seemed totally out of keeping with the stereotypes of Tea Party members as knee-jerk tax cutters. After suggesting that any benefit cuts be aimed at those in the “upper income brackets,” she went so far as to say that she “would not mind a tax increase to try to get the country right again.”
Given the Tea Partiers’ abiding support for two key pillars of the American social safety net, it is no surprise that Gingrich’s plan for a Social Security overhaul is aimed only at young workers, not the retirees filling the rows at Tea Party meetings. But Mitt Romney has taken a different path, expressing his support for the Ryan budget plan that features huge tax cuts for the very wealthy paid for with relatively near-term Medicare cuts.
Many observers have suggested that Romney’s support for the unpopular Ryan budget was a misstep. But considered from another perspective, Romney is making a strategic move to aim for a different part of the Tea Party, the free-market elites and funders.
Long-standing elite advocacy organizations that rallied around the Tea Party label in 2009 and 2010, like FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, were crucial to the Tea Party phenomenon, providing funding for national rallies and conservative candidates, and focusing attention on well-practiced spokespeople to represent the Tea Party in the media and in Washington. But the national advocates have only tenuous ties to the grassroots Tea Party groups and are in no way accountable to the Tea Party at the local level. Their policy agenda is different as well. FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity have sought major reforms of Social Security and Medicare for years — long before the Tea-Party label gained currency.
Cutting these programs is unlikely to appeal to the grassroots Tea Party, but local Tea Party members are only marginally aware of the national advocacy occurring in their name. Asked about national groups, local activists tended to shake their heads in confusion. In a typical complaint, one leader of a local Arizona Tea Party group told us, “sometimes when you sign up for a site, it puts out tentacles,” sharing information so that visitors receive a bewildering array of emails from other groups.
Tea Partiers also receive their information primarily, or in some cases exclusively, from Fox News and talk radio, outlets that are unlikely to turn a critical eye on conservative advocacy organizations. This lack of connection between grassroots and elite Tea Party-ism may allow Romney to placate the wealthy opponents of Social Security and Medicare without irking the Tea Party base.
For both Romney and Gingrich, appealing to the Tea Party is a bit of a stretch. Both men have been around too long not to have taken positions too moderate for the new, extreme-right, tea-infused Republican Party. In particular, there is little Romney can do to make Tea Party activists enthusiastic about him during the primary season. Though his claims to a businessman’s expertise should appeal to the many small business owners in the Tea Party, no one we interviewed had good things to say about anything but his potential electability.
But Republican primary voters, including those in the Tea Party, want to win the 2012 general election. As one Tea Partier told us, Romney is “not quite conservative enough – but we have to get Obama out.” They will overlook past heresies, even “RomneyCare,” in a candidate they believe can win the general election.
As long as the big Tea Party funders back Romney’s candidacy or stay on the sidelines, Romney has a good chance of riding out other candidates’ surges in popularity and using his vast organizational and financial advantages to beat out his opponents for the Republican nomination. At that point, the grassroots Tea Party members will have little influence; instead, momentum will shift even further towards the elite policy advocates. And these well-funded groups, which benefited from the Tea Party’s momentum in the first years of the Obama administration, will continue to seek their own policy goals, including those at odds with the positions of local Tea Partiers.
By: Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, The New York Times, December 26, 2011
On Dec. 14, with Newt Gingrich still leading in most polls of Iowa but a softness in his numbers beginning to show, the former House Speaker made the unorthodox choice to take time off campaigning to deliver a seminar on brain science in the liberal university town of Iowa City.
“Today,” Gingrich declared to an auditorium of students, “we are on the cusp of an explosion of new science that will create new opportunities in health, agriculture, energy and materials technology.” But, he argued, we must first reform the bureaucracy hindering unfettered science. Perhaps — but it was hard to argue with Politico’s conclusion that giving the seminar in the midst of a hard-fought primary was politically “puzzling.” At worst it was suicidal.
The best guide to understanding the reasons Gingrich took time off the campaign trail to teach a brain-science seminar — and also, in the words of Mitt Romney, to understanding his “zany” side — is Gingrich’s first book, “Window of Opportunity.”
Published in 1984 when he was the three-term member of Congress from Georgia (and, the cover notes, “chairman of the Congressional Space Caucus”), the book is an extended meditation on how the bureaucratic welfare state is holding back America from a bright future of space tourism and a poverty-ending computer revolution. It was coauthored by Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, and sci-fi/fantasy author David Drake and blurbed by President Reagan, who called it “a source of new hope for building an Opportunity Society that sparks the best in each of us and permits us to chart a better future for our children.” (Drake, for his part, is the author of nearly 100 novels, with titles like “The Dragon Lord” and “Skyripper.”)
The striking thing about “Window of Opportunity” (yes, I read the whole thing) are the continuities in Gingrich’s thought and style between 1984 and the present. The constant hyperbole is there (“dramatically,” “literally,” “enormously”). Gingrich’s tendency to speak in world-historical terms, coupled with authoritative-sounding and astoundingly detailed discussions of technology, is there.
“Our generation of Americans must decide whether to lead mankind into freedom, productivity, and peace or whether we will preside over the slow decay of mankind into a world of terrorism and tyranny,” he writes at one point. At another, he dives into the minutiae of Reagan’s so-called Star Wars missile defense plan:
Particle beams and laser solutions (directed energy weapons) offer some real advantages over conventional — gun and missile — weapons because directed energy weapons hit their targets at the speed of light, making aiming much easier and permitting a single weapon to hit multiple targets in series.
In “Window of Opportunity,” Gingrich waxes enthusiastic about children as young as eighth graders jumping into the new information economy and making money using computers, echoing his talk this year about getting kids to do janitorial work.
This book is where Gingrich’s abiding interest in futurism first bloomed into public view. He invokes classics of the genre such as Alvin Toffler’s “The Third Wave,” Peter Drucker’s “The Age of Discontinuities,” and John Naisbett’s “Megatrends.” Some of Gingrich’s predictions sound reasonably prescient with the benefit of hindsight. “Many of our grandchildren will do much of their work from their homes by connecting keyboards to their telephones to write letters, books, and purchase orders,” he writes.
Other predictions, not so much:
- “If we are going to retain our high standard of living and compete in the world marketplace, Americans must give priority to the development of high-value industries such as space tourism and advanced health care.”
- “The space station will provide opportunities for a variety of new commercial and scientific projects: the first stable base for long-term production of … ultralight, very large structures that can be built with extremely thin materials in a zero-gravity environment but would be crushed by Earth’s gravity.”
- “This much flashier space vehicle would theoretically be capable of research and development missions, hypersonic flight, and even rescue missions to the Moon — but it must be piggy-backed into orbit on the shuttle, and it will be piloted by a single man in an open cockpit, protected only by an anti-micrometeorite suit supplied by the lowest bidder.”
- “The third-generation shuttle of the year 2020 should offer yet another magnitude drop [in the price of flying cargo to space] about $10 a kilogram. At that point, a typical couple might take a honeymoon trip into space for around $15,000.”
In fairness, there’s still a few years left for America to achieve the $15,000 moon honeymoon. If Gingrich is elected in 2012 and reelected in 2016, maybe he can make it happen.
By: Justin Elliott, Salon, December 27, 2011
Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast helpfully suggested that Rep. Ron Paul could quiet the furor over the newsletters that bore his name by giving an Obama-style “race speech.”
It’s not a bad idea.
In particular, Paul should adopt the following passage from Obama’s speech and make it his own:
“The profound mistake of Reverend [Jeremiah] Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country … is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.”
Libertarianism in America is bound to that same tragic past.
To read the racialist screeds found in Paul’s newsletters of the late ’80s and early ’90s is to be reminded that, in the darkest corners of the libertarian right, that yelping has never really stopped.
It’s a deeply rooted, Virginian-English yelp that grates on the ears of modern liberals and Burkean Yankee conservatives alike.
In Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, historian David Hackett Fischer wrote:
“The libertarian ideas that took root in Virginia were very far removed from those that went to Massachusetts. In place of New England’s distinctive idea of ordered liberty, the Virginians thought of liberty as a hegemonic condition of dominion over others and—equally important—dominion over oneself. … It never occurred to most Virginia gentlemen that liberty belonged to everyone. It was thought to be the special birthright of free-born Englishmen—a property which set this “happy breed” apart from less fortunate people in the world.”
In his hypothetical race speech, Ron Paul could acknowledge this “tragic past”—but insist that 21st-century American libertarianism need not be bound to it. Paul could say that the black community is being harmed by the sort of paternalistic government that, 50 years ago, secured their political liberty.
Granted, since he remains adamantly opposed to the letter of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, this would be an awkward straddle for Paul. But he has made a version of this argument in the context of the war on drugs.
Paul could remind us, too, that the Virginia conception of liberty was only half-hierarchical. Re-read the above citation and Fischer’s phrase “dominion over oneself.” This points to the libertarian ethos of self-reliance and independence that doesn’t require historical de-odorizing.
I doubt Paul would seriously consider giving such a speech. Yet even though I trace my conservatism to New England rather than Virginia, I’d still like to see him deliver something like it.
All conservatives have a dog in this fight.
By: Scott Galupo, U. S. News and World Report, December 27, 2011