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Newt Gingrich and standards of evidence

I've always thought that rumors of Newt Gingrich's brilliance were overstated, and his speech to CPAC did nothing to change my mind:

Orwell points out, after ["1984]" became famous, that the novel is not about the Soviet Union. The novel is about the logical extension of centralized government in Great Britain. The novel is proof of Hayek's principle that centralized planning inherently leads to dictatorship, which is why having a secular, socialist machine try to impose government-run health care on this country is such a significant step away from freedom and away from liberty and towards a government-dominated society.

A lot of people are noting that Orwell was a socialist and Gingrich doesn't know what he's talking about, but I'm much more appalled that Gingrich thinks a dystopic piece of fiction was "proof" that "that centralized planning inherently leads to dictatorship" and an argument against health-care reform. That's like me saying “The Shawshank Redemption” is proof that prison walls are too weak and we should invest serious money into reinforcing them against extremely small rock picks.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 1, 2010; 6:04 PM ET
 
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Comments

How about the fact that the UK has had centralized, government healthcare for over half a century now and has somehow avoided turning into a dictatorship.

Posted by: MosBen | March 1, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

So, I grant there are many examples of Gingrich's brain farts, and if you haven't seen it yet, I suggest the debate he had with John Kerry in 2006 or 2007 on climate change/cap+trade, which Kerry got the better of. Having said that, I do regard Gingrich as in the 'brilliant' category for political figures (the grading is curved here). His background a history professor, his understanding of policy, and his ability to communicate all put him in that grouping. Bill Clinton is head of the pack, Obama is in there, many others as well.

Ultimately, is the praise "overstated," as you say? Guess that just depends on how often you hear the praise and how out of proportion it is. From my perspective, it seems warranted.

(Speaking of debates, I would give Gingrich props for his appearance on Meet the Press a while back with Chris Dodd. It turned out to be more of a debate than most MTP appearances with a Dem and a Republican, though maybe my memory fails me as to how much of a debate it was. Point being, I was impressed. I also saw him debate Jeff Sachs of all people at the NY Public Library in Manhattan, and another debate with Mario Cuomo. Both appearances were very solid.)

Posted by: gocowboys | March 1, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

It is always the height of hypocrisy and lack of self reflection to hear wingers talk about collectivism and centralization.

When we have watched the GOP while in power the last 8 years in control of governance, utterly subjugate their congressional majorities to the whims of the GOP president Bush. In the Housem Strict party line voting from a leader they called the hammer. And a hand picked by WH Senate Majority Leader water carrier the Executive Branch. And near complete fealty to dear leader in the WH who sent out for whatever legislation he wanted from the GOP House and Senate like ordering room service.

And before that when Gingrich ran the House, the only difference was they had to deal with a dem president. Same top down directives to allegedly deliberative bodies of government.

Posted by: GenStuck | March 1, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

See Or­well, George. “Pol­i­tics and the En­glish Lan­guage”. __Shoot­ing an Ele­phant and Other Es­says__. Lon­don: Seck­er and War­burg, 1950. The first pub­lished ver­sion ap­peared in Hori­zon, a pe­ri­od­i­cal pub­lished in Lon­don, in 1946.

The novel __1984__ is most definitely about "the logical extension of centralized government in Great Britain".

Posted by: rmgregory | March 1, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Newt is obviously a big fan of using fiction as proof for policy suggestions. Remember his recent argument in the NY Times that tort reform would be able to save serious money in health care?

Posted by: thescuspeaks | March 1, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

And Catch-22 is proof that no sane person would join the US military:

"Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to."

Why does Newt Gingrich not support our troops?

Posted by: slag | March 1, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

What, you haven't heard of the Shawshank Prison Modernization Act of 1994?

Posted by: randrewm | March 1, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

i would argue that 'the shawshank redemption' is evidence that decent, innocent people always get out of prison and go live their dream on the pacific coast of mexico, so we don't need to worry about a justice system that occasionally convicts the wrong people.

Posted by: rmbjspd | March 1, 2010 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Like a lot of GOP gigolos, Gingrich is an advocate who tailors his argument to suit the needs of whoever his client of the moment is (in this case the slant is advancing a line that industry groups favor).

As a gifted politician Gingrich also knows how to tailor a message to suit a certain kind of audience.

In this case, Gingrich probably sensed he could get away with the overstatement and the unintended irony, because his audience was simply too stupid to know any better.

It's important to remember that this was a speech given to CPAC. That point can't be under-emphasized.

Posted by: JPRS | March 1, 2010 9:04 PM | Report abuse

The idea that the welfare state is a bad idea because "centralized planning inherently leads to dictatorship" has always been totally asinine. It is amazing that otherwise intelligent people continue to take it so seriously.

It might have been excusable during a more paranoid cold war era but clearly we can see today that social democracy (in one form or another) has been functioning in the U.S. and Europe for many decades and the West is in no meaningful sense any less 'free' as a consequence. The argument should no longer pass the laugh test.

Personally I think that the right resent the ease with which the left can appeal to emotive and altruistic arguments. The question is: If the left are so eager to help the poor and vulnerable how do you portray the right as the "good guys"?

Sure one can make the case that centre-left policies are impractical or counterproductive--for example that society as a whole benefits from low taxes, that free markets are better at all kinds of things--but that's an appeal to the head not the heart. It's a bit too dry and intellectual.

Furthermore if liberals are staunch supporters of civil liberties how do you place conservatives and "libertarians" on the side of "freedom"? And how do you obfuscate the fact that when any real and meaningful question of human rights abuses arises the right has historically tended to be on the wrong side of the argument?

Well why not suggest, in the face of all common sense, that those seeming do-gooders are actually working towards totalitarianism. Then you can compare Barak Obama to Adolf Hitler, the progressive income tax to slavery, free school lunches to the Gulag.

Barney Frank has it right, it's like “trying to argue with a dining room table.”

Posted by: Modicum | March 1, 2010 9:16 PM | Report abuse

Well, we should, shouldn't we? I mean reinforce prison walls that is. We certainly can't have innocent people getting out and living happily ever after.

Posted by: CaptainNoble | March 1, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

Not only did Orwell think Gingrich is stupid, so did Hayek:

Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance, where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks, the case for the state helping to organise a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong.


But hey, facts don't mean anything when you're coming up with talking points, if you're a Republican.

Posted by: eelvisberg | March 1, 2010 11:19 PM | Report abuse

Orwell held a variety of beliefs throughout his life. He is closely associated with the anarcho-syndicalists, which is very different from the statist version of socialism that you seem to prefer, Mr. Klein.

So the Newt muffed the word "proof", duly noted. I am bit more annoyed at his pejorative use of the term "secular". I abhor the politics of conflating socialism with atheism in an attempt to frighten religious idiots.

Posted by: staticvars | March 2, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Ezra - Have you ever considered that Newt Gingrich is smarter than you?

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | March 2, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

There are MANY true believers of Communism who believe that it will ultimately achieve the goal of allowing workers to rule themselves and a bottom-up hierarchy.

Indeed if there were any actual evidence that it didn't ALWAYS result in the most perverse opposite extreme of a small group of elites brutally dominating the masses, I might be tempted to join the true believers myself.

George Orwell died in 1950, before the tremendous body of evidence that even a civilized society suffered tremendous problems from draconian centralized rule.

I urge all of you to read Obama's Science Czar John Holdren's book from the 70s if you are not convinced yet of the orros that we will endure as we cede more power to a centralized authority that is looking out for our interests!

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | March 2, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

I believe Obama & Pelosi will NOT insititute death panels in this healthcare bill.....


....BUT THE PROBLEM IS THEY ARE PROVIDING THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT THE AUTHORITY & PRECEDENCE FOR DOING SO.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601070&sid=aGrKbfWkzTqc

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | March 2, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Animal Farm is proof that barnyard animals can talk.

Posted by: burndtdan | March 2, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I think the thing that's special about Newt is that he's great at being creative. He's good at both coming up with ideas and with applying ideas.

It was a presentation by Newt about 7 years ago that convinced me that electronic medical records were the way to go for health care reform. Though I notice he's not stumping that idea around now.

Posted by: ideallydc | March 2, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

FastEddie, Gingrich doesn't have to be smarter than Ezra. He only has to be smarter than people like you.

Posted by: steveh46 | March 2, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

If he decries socialism so much he should be reminded of his old congressional district. Cobb County receives more federal subsidies than any suburban county in the country.

Posted by: MerrillFrank | March 2, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

"Mr." Klein, you do yourself -- and The Washington Post -- a great disservice, (but perhaps deservedly so -- along with a number of other commentators), when all you can do is "pick" at a straw man in Gingrich's speech by taking an analogy and stretching it well belong its intention. Instead of such an fallacious ad homonym, why don't you address his ideas -- objectively -- not damning him with the condescending faint praise "rumors..of brilliance?" If you were literate you might even have read his book, "REAL CHANGE" -- if fairness and ADHD would permit that?
If so, you could see in THIS speech at CPAC and Chapter 2 of REAL CHANGE, that he is "guilty" of profound & powerful criticism of current Republican Congressional leadership with the phrase "we [CPAC must] live through the next three years with principled, responsible bipartisanship" and again "principled bipartisanship!"
Isn't the GOP congressional leadership only saying "NO!" which is NOT principled bipartisanship?
You and the Post at least provided the "service" of a hyperlink to the CPAC speech, so it's obvious that you can provide other useful one-click links to other "fair and balanced" reports -- as Google does -- if "you" can't, or won't, create and provide both objective and responsible reportague and/or thoughtful and critical commentary.

Posted by: CharlesCurmudgeon | March 3, 2010 12:31 AM | Report abuse

"Mr." Klein, you do yourself -- and The Washington Post -- a great disservice, (but perhaps deservedly so -- along with a number of other commentators), when all you can do is "pick" at a straw man in Gingrich's speech by taking an analogy and stretching it well belong its intention. Instead of such an fallacious ad homonym, why don't you address his ideas -- objectively -- not damning him with the condescending faint praise "rumors..of brilliance?" If you were literate you might even have read his book, "REAL CHANGE" -- if fairness and ADHD would permit that?
If so, you could see in THIS speech at CPAC and Chapter 2 of REAL CHANGE, that he is "guilty" of profound & powerful criticism of current Republican Congressional leadership with the phrase "we [CPAC must] live through the next three years with principled, responsible bipartisanship" and again "principled bipartisanship!"
Isn't the GOP congressional leadership only saying "NO!" which is NOT principled bipartisanship?
You and the Post at least provided the "service" of a hyperlink to the CPAC speech, so it's obvious that you can provide other useful one-click links to other "fair and balanced" reports -- as Google does -- if "you" can't, or won't, create and provide both objective and responsible reportage and/or thoughtful critical commentary.

Posted by: CharlesCurmudgeon | March 3, 2010 12:37 AM | Report abuse

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