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Newt Gingrich, Pseudo-Intellectual Free-Trade Kool-Aid Drinker

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At least one Republican presidential candidate (Roemer) is actually good on trade issues. At least one (Romney) may be at least o-kay if he really means what he says.  At least one (Cain) is an odd mix of very good and very bad. And at least one (Perry) seems to be just naïve and corrupt on the subject.

But I have yet to report on a candidate who is proactively, deliberately, ideologically wrong on trade as a matter of high principle.

Until now.  His name is Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich is, of course, already familiar to Americans from his unhappy stint as House Speaker in the mid 1990s, a stint which ended up disappointing both Democrats and his own Republicans.  Republicans, of course, abandoned him as leader in 1999 after he led his party to the worst-ever  Congressional loss by a party not in control of the White House.

And there was all that nastiness in 1997 about  allegedly using tax-deductible charitable donations to fund a non-charitable college course he taught—and of then lying about it to the House Ethics Committee. Was he innocent? Well, the House voted 395-28 to fine him an unprecedented $300,000 as part of a deal to avoid a full hearing, if that helps the reader any.

Gingrich seemed, as recently as a year or so ago, to have been relegated to well-paid has-been land—decorated, of course, with the polite fiction of his being an elder statesman of the party.

During this earlier career, Gingrich racked up a record of supporting every major wrong move on trade issues the United States has made in recent decades. To wit:

·         In 1993, he supported the North American Free Trade Agreement. (Which wasn’t even enough, according to him.  He wanted to eventually add Chile to the deal with the aim of eventually expanding it to cover the entire New World.)

·         In 1994, he  voted for creation of the World Trade Organization and American membership.

·        In 1998, he supported Most Favored Nation (now  known as Permanent Normal Trade Relations) status with China.

Gingrich has been openly contemptuous of American sovereignty when it comes to trade.  He said, in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee in June 1994,

I am just saying that we need to be honest about the fact that we are transferring from the United States at a practical level significant authority to a new organization. This is a transformational moment. I would feel better if the people who favor this would just be honest about the scale of change.

This is very close to Maastricht [a key European Union treaty], and twenty years from now we will look back on this as a very important defining moment. This is not just another trade agreement. This is adopting something which twice, once in the 1940s and once in the 1950s, the U.S. Congress rejected. I am not even saying we should reject it; I, in fact, lean toward it.

Gingrich’s naiveté with regards to America’s most formidable economic adversary, the People’s Republic of China, is astonishing. The following PBS interview excerpt is almost painful to read, pure Thomas Friedman fantasy:

INTERVIEWER: Was it a good thing to allow China to become an open trading partner?

NEWT GINGRICH: Absolutely…Trade increases the likelihood that you and they will engage in win-win activities. The difference between politics and trade is that in politics I may take something from you to give to somebody else, even though you don’t want to lose it, so I raise your taxes. I charge you a fee. I confiscate your farm. In a free market you only do the things that make you happy in order for me to get the things that make me happy, and if we’re not both happy the trade doesn’t occur. So free markets dramatically lower the friction of human relationships and increase the relative pleasure and the relative success of human relationships. The more the Chinese and Americans [sit] down together to create more wealth, the happier they’ll be with each other, the less likely we’ll have conflict.

No concept of state capitalism at all. No concept that under state capitalism, capitalism strengthens, rather than disciplines, the state.  No concept of mercantilism, or the idea that trade can be practiced by foreign nations as rivalry, with a deliberate agenda to weaken the U.S.

Gingrich doesn’t seem to have wised up since, either.  If one consults his current campaign website’s section on jobs and the economy, there is no mention of trade issues. I guess they’re just not that important, despite a $500 billion-a-year trade deficit. The closest he comes to trade issues is to suggest some policies to “strengthen the dollar.”  While I’m sure the use of the word “strengthen” may make some conservative hearts beat faster, a strong dollar is actually something that has been inflicted on us by Chinese currency manipulation, it is a bad thing, and we need to go in the other direction if we ever expect to balance our trade.

How did Gingrich end up with these appalling ideas?  I can’t plumb his personality, but one of his worst liabilities, on a personal and political level, is his astonishing pseudo-intellectualism.  Intellectually pretentious politicians are a dime a dozen in, say, France, but they are quite rare here, so he stands out for this. As a PhD and former history professor, he seems to instinctively believe that his thoughts go on a higher level than other politicians.

This is a recipe for disaster.

First, intellectuals rarely make good politicians. It’s just a different skill set. A historian can spend a lifetime pondering a question and then give a carefully hedged and nuanced answer. A politician must vote Yea or Nay today. A physicist can discover a theory than only a dozen other people in the world understand, win the Nobel for it, and deserve it.  A politician in a democracy must think and act in ways that millions can understand.

This doesn’t mean politicians shouldn’t be smart, but it does mean that they generally shouldn’t be intellectuals.

It’s no accident that we haven’t had a decent intellectual president since Teddy Roosevelt, who could have gotten tenure teaching history at any university he wanted and whose naval history of the War of 1812 is still a standard work on the topic. The Founders’ generation had a lot of highly intellectual political figures. But that’s unsurprising, as this was a time when the ideology this country is based on was new, so it took genuine brains to understand and fight for it.

What’s even worse is that Newt Gingrich isn’t even an actual intellectual so much as a pseudo-intellectual.  He’s not somebody who has mastered an actual intellectual discipline and takes seriously the idea of intellectual discipline—that is, thinking not however one might wish, but in accord with certain canons derived from objective reality.  He’s more somebody who just loves ideas. Especially big ideas.  I am told his staffers used to joke about having a whole filing cabinet labeled “Newt’s ideas” and a file folder labeled “Newt’s good ideas.” There’s a gaseousness, a love of big for the sake of big, a preference for the intellectually flashy over the boring truth, that runs through what he writes and says.  And it’s thus no surprise he’s so hot for globalism, this being one of the biggest, flashiest, most gaseous ideas since the death of Marxism.

America has already had one go at being the lab for Prof. Gingrich’s speculations; we don’t need another.

3 Responses to “Newt Gingrich, Pseudo-Intellectual Free-Trade Kool-Aid Drinker”

  1. Joe Brooks says:

    “If one consults his current campaign website’s section on jobs and the economy, there is no mention of trade issues”

    There is an upcoming debate that may actually force Gingrich to confront the trade deficit as he has accepted an invitation to attend the debate moderated by Trump. Trump says all of these issues will be addressed.

    I realize that Trump is a media elite and his show is a national embarassment, but he has remained consistent on long held stances regarding trade, Social Security, and taxing companies that offshore jobs.

    “For example, Trump argues that dealing with OPEC’s “illegal cartel” and lowering oil prives is key to turning around the U.S. and global economy.

    Trump says he would slap a 25 percent tax on all U.S. imports from OPEC nations.

    He thinks other foreign powers are pushing the U.S. around. A prime example is China, which is manipulating and devaluing their currency to give themselves a competitive trade advantage.

    No more of this nonsense, Trump writes. He’ll hit China with a 25 percent tariff on all their goods imported to the U.S.

    He also advocates a 20 percent tax on all domestic companies that outsource their jobs overseas.

    Trump says in his book that the Great Society programs of the 60s were meant to provide a safety net — not a hammock. He has been a staunch critic of GOP proposals to cut Medicare and Social Security, calling them “a death wish.”

    Says Trump: “I want to save Social Security, I want to save Medicare and Medicaid. And you can do that by creating a strong economy, by creating a strong country. You know, if we have a good economy again, we won’t have a problem saving our plans that really people are entitled to — and they deserve.”

    Trump, who is scheduled to moderate a Dec. 27 GOP debate in Iowa sponsored by Newsmax and ION Television, was asked in the interview to identify the top threat facing America.

    “Unfortunately we have many threats,” he said. “I think the biggest threat might be bad leadership if you want to know the truth.”

    I will be watching and hoping, I also sent an email asking them to invite Buddy Roemer.

    • Bruce Bishop says:

      When Newt Gingrich announced his “Solutions for America” website, I scoured it with eager anticipation. I was looking for a section on “Jobs.” It wasn’t there.

      Newt brings some good ideas to the table, but . . . we’ve got to have a “table” for any of the other stuff to matter.

  2. robert says:

    It appears we are down to one viable candidate that actually sees the reality of the trade mess – and that includes Obama, who refuses to act on anything but more spending. Only Romney has vowed to do something about the mess and recognizes that we have failed to show up for the trade war we’re already in. Regardless of personal biases on many issues it is sad that so many of our so-called leaders and potential leaders are blinded by an ideology than has hit the dust bin of current history. Currency is large. Yes taxes and regulation are issues – but the tax issue is also integral to trade vis a vis the world using tax systems as tariffs. A leader who cannot change and adapt to external realities is no leader at all. Imagine a combat situation – and we’re in one – where adapting to change wasn’t allowed. We’d have lost every war if that was the case. We’re losing the trade war big time because our “leadership” can’t adapt to battlefield chaos and change.


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