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Newt Gingrich’s speech at CPAC today tried to combine the best of both worlds: aggressive conservative rhetoric with an appeal to principled engagement with Democrats.
With his obligatory Reagan quote, Gingrich called not “for pale pastels, but bold colors” in the conservative movement.
The apparent theme of his speech, ‘Two plus two equals four,’ alludes to Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Gingrich related the “government takeover of healthcare” to Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, pointing out that socialized health care led down the road to tyranny (or worse). “Centralized planning inherently leads to dictatorship!” said Gingrich to fantastic applause.
But what to do about the monster that is the contemporary Democratic party? “The most decisive way to defeat the secular left is to slow [their] machine down,” said Gingrich. The secular left, he says, is destroying the values that have made America great.
Yet, in a lurching shift midway through his address, Gingrich abruptly changes gears. “I hope Republican leaders will say that they’re happy for a real opportunity for bipartisanship” during the health care summit, he says. Conservatives can’t just take a recess for three years, he continues – history won’t allow it. There are crises that need addressing now.
But this is the paradox of Gingrich’s speech. It is courageous and admirable to propose engagement with Democrats. He’s right – Republicans can’t sit on the bench for the three years. He’s right – Republicans should “trust, but verify”.
On the other hand, how can you compare Obama’s plans to that of Big Brother, claim that your opponents are destroying America’s best values, and still work with them? If they are that despicable, that tyrannical, that destructive, then isn’t it incumbent upon you to refuse to concede?
If you think Obama is a wannabe dictator, wouldn’t it be better to wait it out and obstruct his every move? Isn’t it your obligation?
The hyperbolic rhetoric sets up a paradigm that makes it hard to work towards bipartisanship. It’s like spending fifty minutes comparing a business partner to Mussolini, only to cool off a bit in the last ten minutes to say, ‘hey, let’s make a deal.’ The disconnect in the speech is between his aggressive demeanor and his attempts to be conciliatory.
He wants to energize the base with a confident speech – and he accomplished that. He reached out to moderates and pragmatists who think it is unconscionable to sit on their hands while the country is truly suffering. He showed that he can intelligently discuss the minutiae of policy. But what of the contradiction?
Unlike every other speaker at CPAC, who came out from backstage, Gingrich walked through the ballroom, leading to an extended entrance (and the longest clip of “Eye of the Tiger” yet) while a standing ovation continued. This is a great tactic – the energy built as he moved across the room and the applause continued.
This signals, as clearly as can be signaled at this time, that Gingrich wants to run in 2012. Let’s hope in the meantime that he more closely aligns his rhetoric with his intentions.