Yesterday, appearing on Sean Hannity’s TV show during the GOP debate in Florida, former Senator Fred Thompson was rocking a beard that made him look ready to saddle up alongside Robert Duvall and ride down some cattle rustlers. More importantly, he endorsed Newt Gingrich for President, and gave some interesting reasons for doing so.
Thompson’s point about how things are even worse than they seem, because the government relies on faulty projections of economic growth, is well-taken. Even some Republican reformers are relying on awfully rosy GDP projections. The current system of politicized economics might not be able to do any better, unless it receives far more than a tune-up.
Thompson lauded Gingrich for presiding over a “revolution” in the Nineties, saying it proves that things like a balanced budget “can be done… but we can’t be apologetic about it.” He said “these times are different,” and “I think we’re at a tipping point in this country.”
There lies the key to Gingrich’s appeal for much of the Republican base. His pugnacious encounters with liberal journalists aren’t just entertaining for their own sake. They show that he’s not willing to let the media intimidate or redefine him, and that is important, because the mass media are an aggressive component of the system Gingrich proposes to challenge, in a fundamental way (to borrow one of his favorite words.)
The old system is teetering on the edge of collapse, and Barack Obama did not single-handedly drag it there from stable ground over the past three years. He accelerated what was already in progress. Resuscitating economic growth long enough to sustain the system for another few years, until not even the strongest boom economy can prop it up, is not good enough. Getting us some fraction of the way back to where George Bush left us is not good enough.
Collapse and recovery are processes, not events. The American system won’t die at a certain hour on a certain day. Avoiding that fate will not be the result of a single bill or executive order. True collapse will begin when all the smart, connected people – the ones who make a fortune by predicting massive economic trends – begin heading for the exits. This process is arguably under way right now. There will come a moment when people like Obama stop asking for the Evil Rich to “pay their fair share.” The smart ones will depart before that day arrives, and their absence will hasten our collapse.
That means we don’t have much time to set things right. If there’s one thing we should take note of, in the more unhealthy Eurozone states, it’s the sense of desperation and hopelessness. There aren’t any good options. The political class becomes even more paralyzed as the situation grows increasingly dire. The necessary steps become political suicide, so they will not be taken. Everyone stands rooted to the spot on deck, as the ship of state hurtles toward the rock of insolvency. American politicians will be doing the exact same thing, two or three presidential elections from now.
Gingrich’s big vision for change makes him compelling. It also makes him vulnerable to tales from his past that contradict his vision of the future, most especially his stint working for Freddie Mac. Thompson is correct to say that knowledge of the system is necessary to engage and defeat it… but meditating on Gingrich’s days as a creature of the system, providing assistance to the chief lobbyist of a massive and terminally ill government-sponsored enterprise, does not inspire confidence.
Gingrich said in the Florida debate last night that before the munchkins of Big Government corrupted them, GSEs helped people get a lot of good housing. He’s usually the kind of thinker that asks whether the federal government should be using compulsive force to help some people get good housing, no matter how nice those people might be. As a keen student of history, he knows how terribly addictive compulsion can be, once it’s mixed with a sense of righteousness.
Still, Gingrich offers the strongest taste of a campaign that would continue long after the White House drapes have been changed. The candidate himself acknowledged, in his closing remarks Monday night, that the road ahead will be difficult. Inspiration is the fuel that moves great bodies of people down difficult roads. It would be great to have the inspiration without that trademark Gingrich volatility, but what’s the point of getting behind a candidate who has neither?
Mitt Romney also knows a thing or two about self-destruction, as his tax-return debacle demonstrates, along with a few of the more hair-raising interviews he’s given to basically friendly media sources. Has Romney delivered much “inspiration” yet? The closest he gets is when he refuses to apologize for being successful. Hopefully he’s studying the way people react to that, and learning from it.
The legion of Americans who refuse to go gentle into that good night are waiting to hear more about confidence, the glory of achievement, and the right of free men to embrace risk in the pursuit of reward. That’s what entrepreneurial adventure is all about. The alternative is stasis and decay. Of course, some risks are too great, and Republican voters may yet decide Newt Gingrich is such a risk… but right now, they’re feeling entrepreneurial, and the return on a “safer” investment in Romney seem too low.