Republican voters see the former House speaker as an attractive alternative to the little-loved front-runner. But is Newt any more conservative than his rival?
The Republican primary voters who continue to cast about for a presidential nominee not named Mitt Romney have lately alit on Newt Gingrich as their newest infatuation. Gingrich has plenty of appealing qualities, chief among them that he's entertaining. But why, exactly, should conservatives prefer him to Romney?
Going down the list of conservative objections to Romney, every one applies equally, if not more so, to Gingrich.
* Support for health-care mandates: Romney's embrace in his Massachusetts health-care reform of a requirement that individuals buy health insurance, which he's refused to repudiate, is his scarlet letter for many on the right; he says he opposes mandates at the federal level but that the provision was right for Massachusetts and promotes personal responsibility.
Gingrich, for his part, has long been a vigorous supporter of mandates -- from the 1990s, when many conservatives championed the idea in opposition to Hillary Clinton's health-reform proposal, to as recently as 2008, when he wrote in his book Real Change: "We should insist that everyone above a certain level buy coverage (or, if they are opposed to insurance, post a bond). Meanwhile, we should provide tax credits or subsidize private insurance for the poor." In a 2007 Des Moines Register op-ed, Gingrich specifically used the dreaded words "individual mandate," saying, "Personal responsibility extends to the purchase of health insurance."
It's not clear when Gingrich's position changed to his current vehement rejection of mandates. As recently as May he was speaking favorably about "some requirement you either have health insurance or you post a bond" -- comments that were followed by a hasty retreat the next day: "I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and, I believe, unconstitutional." In making that statement, Gingrich didn't explain the dissonance with what he'd said the day before.
* Squishy on abortion: Romney's conversion (or flip-flop, depending on your point of view) from pro-choice as a Massachusetts politician to pro-life as a national one is well known. Gingrich has never been vociferously pro-choice, and, unlike Romney, he has now signed the pro-life pledge proffered by the Susan B. Anthony List, which asks candidates to promote anti-abortion legislation, make pro-life appointments and cut off federal funds for abortion providers.
But -- as social-conservative purists like Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann have lately been pointing out -- in his days as the leader of a resurgent House GOP, Gingrich advocated a big tent. In 1990, for example, he said that rather than being strict abortion prohibitionists, the Republican Party ought to "be the party that on balance prefers the fewest abortions possible." He supported some taxpayer funding of abortion, a stance that his campaign now says he has reversed.
* Squishy on immigration: In the last debate, Gingrich made an emotional argument in favor of some sort of legalization process for some illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S., particularly those brought to the country as children. The resulting dust-up revealed that Romney's stance, beneath his many evasions, isn't materially different: He'd rather talk about securing the border, he doesn't want lawbreakers to get special treatment, but he also is not in favor of mass deportation. In 2006, he told Bloomberg that he would not have illegal immigrants "rounded up and box-carred out."
If immigration hawks are looking for a candidate who'll take a tougher stance than Romney, though, Gingrich's line in the debate showed he's not their man. "I'm prepared to take the heat for saying, 'Let's be humane in enforcing the law, without giving them citizenship, but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families,'" he said.
* Generally squishy -- a flip-flopper: This is the main knock on Romney, from left and right alike -- that he changes his positions based on political expediency. While few politicians with long careers have been absolutely consistent, Gingrich has an especially rich history of reversing himself when something he said proved to be unpopular.
To take just a couple of recent examples, in 2008, when being "green" was fashionable, Gingrich recorded a television commercial for an Al Gore project in which he sat on a loveseat with Nancy Pelosi and declared, "We do agree our country must take action to address climate change." Now that he's running in a GOP primary that's hostile to environmental regulation, he's skeptical that anything needs to be done.
Earlier this year, when the Obama administration hadn't taken action on the violence breaking out in Libya, Gingrich called for immediate imposition of a no-fly zone. When the administration took his advice, though, he was against it: "I would not have intervened," he said. As one of his critics noted at the time, it was hard to see this swift reversal as anything other than blind partisanship -- knee-jerk opposition to Obama's stance, regardless of its policy merits.
Gingrich has basically admitted this was the reason for his reversal on health-care mandates: In the 1990s, he told the New Hampshire Union Leader, the individual mandate "was designed to block Hillarycare." Yet Gingrich maintains that Romney's flip-flops are objectionable because they were for political reasons, while his have been authentic changes of heart: "I wouldn't switch my positions for political reasons," he said recently. "It's perfectly reasonable to change your position if ... you see new things you didn't see."
* Not all that conservative, deep down: Many conservatives suspect that no matter how many conservative positions Romney espouses, deep in his heart he's just not one of them. It's a sense based on his record, his current policy proposals (such as an economic plan that gives suspicious emphasis to relief for the middle class), and his general tone and temperament. But Gingrich's record is hardly that of a right-wing crusader.
The 1994 takeover of the House Gingrich engineered was an enormous victory for the Republican Party, one for which Gingrich is still justly revered in GOP ranks. But he didn't do it by enforcing conservatism -- he couldn't have. Much of the "Contract With America" -- which was, after all, designed to appeal to swing voters -- was technocratic. For the landmark achievements he still touts, welfare reform and balancing the budget, Gingrich worked arm in arm -- and compromised -- with Bill Clinton.
This year, shortly after launching his candidacy, Gingrich didn't win many Republican friends when he blasted the House Republican budget proposal drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as "right-wing social engineering." As Ryan said at the time, "With allies like that, who needs the left?" Gingrich quickly repented and now says, "Paul Ryan came up with some very good ideas." But there's ample reason to question the true colors of a politician who, early in his career, was a state chairman for the presidential campaign of Nelson Rockefeller -- the emblem of liberal Republicanism that sought to halt the rise of conservatives like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. In a 1989 interview, Gingrich called this "the classic moderate wing of the party," and said it was where he had "spent most of my life."
So why are the anti-Romney conservatives flocking to Gingrich? In conversations with Republicans -- some Gingrich backers, some not -- about why he's more appealing than Romney, most acknowledge it basically comes down to style. Gingrich's tone is that of an angry crusader, unlike Romney's placid assurance. And because Gingrich has such a penchant to say whatever comes into his head, his inconsistencies tend to get chalked up to a lack of discipline rather than cold calculation.
As the Daily Caller's Matt Lewis put it:
Gingrich and Romney couldn't be more different. Gingrich questions authority, challenges conventional wisdom, and disputes premises. He also has fun. He is winsome. He can be undisciplined. He enjoys politics, and seems to gain energy from engaging in the battles. Romney, on the other hand, is a consummate "adult." He is highly disciplined. He plays by the rules, accepts reality as it is, and then -- within those confines -- sets about fixing things as best he can.
It's also true that if Gingrich and Romney really are so similar on paper, voters might as well pick Gingrich. Perhaps that's why Romney's camp sees Gingrich as a threat and will seek to highlight the former speaker's personal baggage.
But as Gingrich's current surge enters the closer-inspection phase, many conservatives may discover their infatuation with him is based on equal parts bluster and mythology. In the words of conservative guru Erick Erickson, the RedState.com founder: "The conservative warrior people tend to think Gingrich is, often is not."
In a dreary European city, a man who goes by the name “Mikro” spends his days and nights targeting Islamic State supporters on Twitter.
In August 2014, a Twitter account affiliated with Anonymous, the hacker-crusader collective, declared “full-scale cyber war” against ISIS: “Welcome to Operation Ice #ISIS, where #Anonymous will do it’s [sic] part in combating #ISIS’s influence in social media and shut them down.”
In July, I traveled to a gloomy European capital city to meet one of the “cyber warriors” behind this operation. Online, he goes by the pseudonym Mikro. He is vigilant, bordering on paranoid, about hiding his actual identity, on account of all the death threats he has received. But a few months after I initiated a relationship with him on Twitter, Mikro allowed me to visit him in the apartment he shares with his girlfriend and two Rottweilers. He works alone from his chaotic living room, using an old, battered computer—not the state-of-the-art setup I had envisaged. On an average day, he told me, he spends up to 16 hours fixed to his sofa. He starts around noon, just after he wakes up, and works late into the night and early morning.
It leaves people bed-bound and drives some to suicide, but there's little research money devoted to the disease. Now, change is coming, thanks to the patients themselves.
This past July, Brian Vastag, a former science reporter, placed an op-ed with his former employer, the Washington Post. It was an open letter to the National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, a man Vastag had formerly used as a source on his beat.
“I’ve been felled by the most forlorn of orphan illnesses,” Vastag wrote. “At 43, my productive life may well be over.”
There was no cure for his disease, known by some as chronic fatigue syndrome, Vastag wrote, and little NIH funding available to search for one. Would Collins step up and change that?
“As the leader of our nation’s medical research enterprise, you have a decision to make,” he wrote. “Do you want the NIH to be part of these solutions, or will the nation’s medical research agency continue to be part of the problem?”
An influential journalist who supports the presidential candidate offers an unusually naked defense of her ends-justify-the-means approach to public life.
An influential progressive writer published a blunt assessment of Hillary Clinton this week, declaring her unusually willing to transgress against civic and legal standards.
“From her adventures in cattle trading to chairing a policymaking committee in her husband's White House to running for Senate in a state she’d never lived in to her effort to use superdelegates to overturn 2008 primary results to her email servers,” Matthew Yglesias declared at Vox.com, “Clinton is clearly more comfortable than the average person with violating norms and operating in legal gray areas.”
He goes on to flesh out those examples and to offer still more:
There was no winnable Senate race for her to enter in Illinois or Arkansas in 2000, so she ran in New York instead. Barack Obama forbade her from employing Sidney Blumenthal at the State Department, so she employed him at her family's foundation instead. Sandy Berger faced criminal penalties for destroying classified documents at the National Archives, but that didn't stop Clinton from informally employing him as an adviser on sensitive Middle East peace negotiations.
She decides what she wants to do, in other words, and then she sets about finding a way to do it...
American politicians are now eager to disown a failed criminal-justice system that’s left the U.S. with the largest incarcerated population in the world. But they've failed to reckon with history. Fifty years after Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report “The Negro Family” tragically helped create this system, it's time to reclaim his original intent.
By his own lights, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ambassador, senator, sociologist, and itinerant American intellectual, was the product of a broken home and a pathological family. He was born in 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but raised mostly in New York City. When Moynihan was 10 years old, his father, John, left the family, plunging it into poverty. Moynihan’s mother, Margaret, remarried, had another child, divorced, moved to Indiana to stay with relatives, then returned to New York, where she worked as a nurse. Moynihan’s childhood—a tangle of poverty, remarriage, relocation, and single motherhood—contrasted starkly with the idyllic American family life he would later extol.
Many films seek to dramatize the Red Planet’s harsh landscape as a romantic frontier, but The Martian is one that actually succeeds.
In most space movies, the villain is the void. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the supercomputer HAL flushes astronauts out into the airless vacuum; in Gravity, Sandra Bullock fights to navigate her way home before running out of air; in Interstellar, explorers are at the mercy of a gargantuan black hole. The underlying tension of any film set in space is that knife-edge between life and death.
Not so on Mars. While space is an alien landscape, Mars is always a recognizably human one, warped to the harshest extremes: Survival is within reach, but complicated by the elements, or natives, or both. In the subgenre’s newest and best entry, The Martian, the most nerve-wracking moment doesn’t involve any zero-gravity derring-do, but rather the astronaut Mark Watney’s potato farm.
A radical experiment at Zappos may herald the emergence of a new, more democratic kind of organization.
Deeply strange reports have been emerging from the Las Vegas headquarters of Zappos, until recently the world’s happiest shoe store. This spring, by order of the CEO, Tony Hsieh, the company abolished managers, eliminated job titles, denounced its own organizational hierarchy, and vested all authority in a 10,000-word constitution that spells out a radical new system of self-governance. Holacracy, it’s called, and it makes all previous moves toward “employee empowerment” look like the mild concessions of an 18th-century monarch. Freed from direct supervision, employees are expected to join various impermanent democratic assemblies called “circles” (headed, but not run, by a “lead link”), in which they will essentially propose their own job descriptions, ratify the “roles” of others, and decide what projects the group should undertake.
Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.
“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”
The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.
That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
All-day breakfast undermines the true pleasure of the iconic sandwich: anticipating and then missing out on it.
The greatest luxury is the one we cannot have—or at least, the one we cannot have very often. This is the definition of luxury, really, and not just expensive, unreachable luxuries, but also cheaper, smaller ones. Thanksgiving turkey and dressing, a decadence limited to one day a year. And also, breakfast—real breakfast, with grains and eggs and meat and starch. Even at a place like McDonald’s where, as of this week, a selection of the struggling fast food figurehead’s breakfast menu, including the venerable Egg McMuffin, isavailable all day.
Let me say something heretical: The Egg McMuffin is not that great, actually. Warm but slightly wet and gooey, sloppily constructed, oozing with quasi-cheese, the slap of Canadian bacon failing to yield to incisors. But what is great is the idea of an egg McMuffin. It’s an improbable domestication of Eggs Benedict, condensing that civil dish of lazy brunches into the harried hand of the commuter or the road-tripper.
A new report details a black market in nuclear materials.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press published a horrifying report about criminal networks in the former Soviet Union trying to sell “radioactive material to Middle Eastern extremists.” At the center of these cases, of which the AP learned of four in the past five years, was a “thriving black market in nuclear materials” in a “tiny and impoverished Eastern European country”: Moldova.
It’s a new iteration of an old problem with a familiar geography. The breakup of the Soviet Union left a superpower’s worth of nuclear weapons scattered across several countries without a superpower’s capacity to keep track of them. When Harvard’s Graham Allison flagged this problem in 1996, he wrote that the collapse of Russia’s “command-and-control society” left nothing secure. To wit: