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At Least Gingrich Learns

Posted By Quin Hillyer On December 2, 2012 @ 9:51 am In posts | Comments Disabled

I have always had extremely mixed feelings about Newt Gingrich, admiring much about him and being appalled by much about him. Usually, when he is NOT directly in the political arena he makes more sense commenting on the arena than he does as an actor in the arena. So it is with the passage quoted by Ashton [1] below.

Here is the key part of that quotation: “At any point they wanted to, the President and the Congress could reduce the “cliff” to a series of foothills by breaking the problem into ten or twenty component parts. They could then focus on solving each problem on its own merits and out in the open with public hearings, public understanding and public involvement.”

Gingrich is absolutely right on this. Maybe he learned from his mistakes as speaker, when he repeatedly tried to put big packages together rather than break things into, yes, component parts. Not that it was all Gingrich’s fault, and not that I had much of an audience then, but as a leadership press secretary I talked myself blue in the face (I wasn’t important enough to have the ear of somebody who could do anything about it, I guess) complaining that we kept forcing all-or-nothing, edge-of-cliff battles rather than fighting and winning discrete skirmishes where we could stake out the high ground and dominate the field.

In fact, Republicans in 1995 were winning the budget battles until Gingrich let Bill Thomas talk him into including a tiny little Medicare “fix” in what had been a clean fight over Appropriations. Once that happened, Clinton was able to unleash his “Mediscare” campaign and seize the upper hand.

Way back in the early 1990s, New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy wanted to push through major tax reforms and other changes, and he put them into one huge package. At Gambit Weekly, we urged him to break it down into component parts and present a menu to the voters. He didn’t, and his initiative lost big. He came back the next time and did it our way, and got almost everything he wanted. And that’s what usually happens: Give citizens a chance to look at things in chewable bites, and common sense often wins. Try to make them swallow something massive, and they can’t grasp the whole thing, so they buy the liberal media narrative, whatever it is.

Anyway, I’m rambling here, but the point is that whatever Gingrich’s history — some of it excellent as speaker, some of it awful — he is right on target in the remarks cited above, and he should be listened to. Actually, I have a version of the “component part” idea waiting for this week’s column, already written.  Messrs. Boehner and McConnell really should take Gingrich’s advice.


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[1] the passage quoted by Ashton: http://cfif.org/v/freedom_line_blog/16619/gingrich-there-is-no-fiscal-cliff/

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