15 December 2011

The Gingrich Heresy

If George Will was already writing two weeks ago that Newt Gingrich was the "least conservative" candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, it's easy to imagine how he'd react when Gingrich dared criticize Mitt Romney's business practices. It's so easy, in fact, that Will has written an entire new column on the subject.

Will, of course, is no fan of Romney, but he is a fan of capitalism, and like Romney, he sees Gingrich's comments on Bain Capital as a confession of economic ignorance. What terrible thing did Gingrich say? Told that Romney had (in Will's word) "mischievously" called on him to return the money Freddie Mac had paid him as a consultant, Gingrich riposted that "if Governor Romney would like to give back all the money he's earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain Capital, ... I would be glad to listen to him."

Knowing that Gingrich is, by almost any standard but Will's, a conservative, I might assume that the former Speaker was simply calling the former governor a poor businessman. Will reads more into it. Working from the assumption that Gingrich is only minimally conservative, if that, the columnist interprets the above snark as an indictment of finance capital of the sort Ted Kennedy presumably used against Romney in the 1994 senatorial election. That reading, and his apparent detection of heresy, provides Will an opportunity to preach the capitalist truth.

The Kennedy-Gingrich doctrine is this: What the economist Joseph Schumpeter called capitalism’s “creative destruction” is not really creative. Rather, it is lamentable and, when facilitated by capitalists, reprehensible. For Kennedy, this made sense: Reactionary liberalism holds that whatever is, from Social Security to farm subsidies to the Chrysler Corp., should forever be. But Gingrich is supposedly our infallible guide to the sunny uplands of a dynamic future. 

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Romney, while at Bain, performed the essential social function of connecting investment resources with opportunities. Firms such as Bain are indispensable for wealth creation, which often involves taking over badly run companies, shedding dead weight and thereby liberating remaining elements that add value. The process, like surgery, can be lifesaving. And like surgery, society would rather benefit from it than watch it. 

For Will, Romney's faults have nothing to do with his business practices; it's only when he turns politician that he displeases the pundit. Will still resents an implicit swipe at Businessman Romney Mike Huckabee took back in 2008. Huckabee had said, "I want to be a president who reminds you of the guy you work with, not the guy who laid you off." Will seems to consider this distinction a vicious one; no good American should resent layoffs, he implies. Rather, they should celebrate the "animal spirits" embodied by Romney and his Bain buddies in a photo Will expects to be used against Romney by Democrats. The photo shows the Bainites "feeling their oats, with paper currency protruding from their dark suits," Will writes, adding, "We should welcome such spirits and should hope for political leadership that will hasten the day when American conditions are again receptive to them. Until then, economic dynamism will not return." As far as I can tell, Will still doesn't trust Romney himself to hasten that day (Mrs. Will advises Rick Perry), but he seems certain that Gingrich will delay it. The fact that Gingrich sees himself as a sort of futurist envisioning fundamental transformations of the economy -- with perhaps some creative political destruction thrown in -- only leaves Will more certain of his unfitness for power. Indeed, the headline over Will's column, "Newt Gingrich commits a capital crime," almost openly suggests, punning aside, that the new front-runner is worthy of death. Will's ongoing polemic against Gingrich leaves me more certain that the Republican race has crossed another threshold on the road from mere stupidity to outright madness.

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