Newt Gingrich, in a South Carolina radio interview, was asked today whether there are things he would not do or say in order to become president. Gingrich used the question to contrast himself with Mitt Romney:
“Sure, there are lots of things that I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t lie to the American people. I wouldn’t switch my positions for political reasons. It’s perfectly reasonable to change your position if facts change, if you see new things you didn’t see in the past. Everybody’s done that — Ronald Reagan did it.
“It’s wrong to go around and adopt radically different positions based on your need of any one election. Because then people have to ask themselves, ‘What will you tell me next time?’”
I share the speaker’s distaste for crass political opportunism. For instance, what would you say of a politician who on March 7 boldly condemns President Obama for not intervening in Libya on humanitarian grounds and who insists on immediate action …
“Exercise a no-fly zone this evening, communicate to the Libyan military that Gadhafi was gone and that the sooner they switch sides, the more likely they were to survive … This is a moment to get rid of him. Do it. Get it over with… All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we’re intervening. And we don’t have to send troops. All we have to do is suppress his air force, which we could do in minutes.”
.. and then turn around on March 23, after Obama has intervened, to condemn the president for taking that very action?
GINGRICH: I think that two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a lot … I would not have intervened. I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Qaddafi. I think there are a lot of allies in the region we could have worked with. I would not have used American and European forces.”
I agree with the former speaker: Politicians who turn on the dime for political advantage, particularly on issues of national security and military intervention, are not to be trusted.
Or how about a candidate who talks for years about the necessity of health-insurance mandates as the centerpiece of health-care reform, for example writing in a 2007 op-ed in the Des Moines Register ….
“Personal responsibility extends to the purchase of health insurance. Citizens should not be able to cheat their neighbors by not buying insurance, particularly when they can afford it, and expect others to pay for their care when they need it.”
… and who then turns around to claim:
“The intractable problem with such individual and employer mandates is this: once you have a mandate, the government has to specify exactly what coverage must be included in insurance for it to qualify…. This is why individual and employer mandates are bad policy leading down the road to socialized medicine, whether the mandates are adopted at the federal level, or the state level.”
Or how about a candidate who embraces a cap-and-trade approach to climate change:
“I think if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur, and if you have a tax-incentive program for investing in the solutions, that there’s a package there that’s very, very good.”
and who even makes a public-service commercial insisting that we take action ….
… but then turns around and takes a diametrically opposed position in the 2011 GOP primary?
“I do know that I’m opposed to cap-and-trade and I’m opposed to any kind of massive government response.”
In that South Carolina interview, Gingrich went on to claim:
“I never take polls to figure out where I stand, because I think my job as somebody who’s been at this a long time, and as a historian by training, is to methodically figure out what’s right for America — and how do I explain it to you, so that you understand how we could create jobs, how we could balance the budget, how we could have a better future, how we could save Social Security?”
I find that pretense of principled leadership particularly ironic, because I vividly remember a discussion with Gingrich back in 1994, when he was still a House minority leader. He pulled out a copy of what was soon to become his ticket to fame and fortune, the Contract With America, and bragged that every single item had been poll-tested to ensure that it had an approval rating of at least 60 percent. If it didn’t reach that threshold, it was stricken from the list.
All politicians change their minds; all politicians keep an eye on public opinion. They couldn’t do their jobs if they didn’t. But Gingrich is the only politician in my experience who could tell you with a straight face that Position A is, frankly, the only moral, constitutional position that a patriotic American could possibly ever take, and then turn around tomorrow and tell you that anybody who takes Position A is, frankly, a secular socialist out to destroy this great country from within.
The utter shamelessness with which it’s all done is, frankly, scary.