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."
The neurologist leaves behind a body of work that reveals a lifetime of asking difficult questions with empathy.
Oliver Sacks always seemed propelled by joyful curiosity. The neurologist’s writing is infused with this quality—equal parts buoyancy and diligence, the exuberant asking of difficult questions.
More specifically, Sacks had a fascination with ways of seeing and hearing and thinking. Which is another way of exploring experiences of living. He focused on modes of perception that are delightful not only because they are subjective, but precisely because they are very often faulty.
To say Sacks had a gift for this method of exploration is an understatement. He was a master at connecting curiosity to observation, and observation to emotion. Sacks died on Sunday after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis earlier this year. He was 82.
Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands: an Object Lesson
Recently, Bic launched acampaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.
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.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
On the desperation behind the migrant tragedy in Austria
On Thursday, as Krishnadev Calamur has been tracking in The Atlantic’s new Notes section, Austrian authorities made a ghastly discovery: a truck abandoned in the emergency lane of a highway near the Hungarian border, packed with the decomposing bodies of 59 men, eight women, and four children. They are thoughtto be the corpses of migrants who suffocated to death, perhaps two days earlier, in the bowels of a vehicle whose back door was locked shut and refrigeration and ventilation systems weren’t functional. Stray identity documents suggest that at least some of the victims were Syrian—refugees from that country’s brutal civil war. The truck featured an image of a chicken and a slogan from the Slovakian poultry company that the lorry once belonged to: “I taste so good because they feed me so well.”
Protofeather fossils discovered entombed in amber from the Late Cretaceous era support theories of dinosaur and avian evolution
Protofeather fossils discovered entombed in amber from the Late Cretaceous era support theories of dinosaur and avian evolution -- and make for one beautiful gallery
Dinosaur and bird feathers preserved in amber from a Late Cretaceous site in Canada reveal new insights into the structure, function, and color of animals that date back to about 78 million years ago.
Researchers led by University of Alberta paleontologist Ryan McKellar say these specimens represent distinct stages of feather evolution, from early-stage, single filament protofeathers to much more complex structures associated with modern diving birds. After analyzing the preserved pigment cells, the authors add that these feathered creatures may have also had a range of transparent, mottled, and diffused colors, similar to birds today. They can't determine which feathers belonged to birds or dinosaurs yet, but they did observe filament structures that are similar to those seen in other non-avian dinosaur fossils. Their findings appear in the current issue of the journal Science.
A new study pinpoints the Facebook status updates that irk us to the point of no return.
In the 1997 movie Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, the two title characters, worried that they haven’t done anything noteworthy to share at said reunion, decide instead to lie and claim they invented Post-it notes.
Their story quickly unravels, of course, but had the movie been made a decade later, even the very concept of the ruse would have been impossible. Everyone would have known about Romy’s daily slog at the Jaguar dealership through Facebook.
Or would they?
The ebb and flow of Facebook friendships has become fruitful territory for social scientists in recent years. At least 63 percent of people report having unfriended someone on Facebook, but what prompts these digital rejections can tell us a lot about both the nature of real-life friendship and about how we manage our online personalities.
This is a low-stress way to ease back into the ancient art of blogging. Our leaders, from J.J. Gould to Chris Bodenner, have explained the logic behind this new feature on The Atlantic’s site here. My colleagues, including Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jeffrey Goldberg, have gotten into the swing of things as you will read.
What it's like to look for romance when "a big smile can be frightening"
The way to Paulette's heart is through her Outlook calendar. “Honestly, if you want to be romantic with me, send an email through Outlook and give me all the possible dates, locations, and times, so that I can prepare,” she said.
The former Miss America system contestant and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music-trained opera singer knew she had a different conception of romance than her previous boyfriends had and, for that matter, everyone else.
“People tend to think of romance as spur of the moment and exciting,” she told me. “I think of romance as things that make sense and are logical.” However, she didn't know why until this year when, at the age of 31, when she was diagnosed with autism.
Grasses—green, neatly trimmed, symbols of civic virtue—shaped the national landscape. They have now outlived their purpose.
The hashtag #droughtshaming—which primarily exists, as its name suggests, to publicly decry people who have failed to do their part to conserve water during California’s latest drought—has claimed many victims. Anonymous lawn-waterers. Anonymous sidewalk-washers. The city of Beverly Hills. The tag’s most high-profile shamee thus far, however, has been the actor Tom Selleck. Who was sued earlier this summer by Ventura County’s Calleguas Municipal Water District for the alleged theft of hydrant water, supposedly used to nourish his 60-acre ranch. Which includes, this being California, an avocado farm, and also an expansive lawn.
The case was settled out of court on terms that remain undisclosed, and everyone has since moved on with their lives. What’s remarkable about the whole thing, though—well, besides the fact that Magnum P.I. has apparently become, in his semi-retirement, a gentleman farmer—is how much of a shift all the Selleck-shaming represents, as a civic impulse. For much of American history, the healthy lawn—green, lush, neatly shorn—has been a symbol not just of prosperity, individual and communal, but of something deeper: shared ideals, collective responsibility, the assorted conveniences of conformity. Lawns, originally designed to connect homes even as they enforced the distance between them, are shared domestic spaces. They are also socially regulated spaces. “When smiling lawns and tasteful cottages begin to embellish a country,” Andrew Jackson Downing, one of the nation’s first landscaper-philosophers, put it, “we know that order and culture are established.”