Ed Driscoll

Newt Gingrich, Compassionate...

…Well, the jury’s out on if you can actually call him conservative. (Perhaps you can in the sense that the Journo-Left have taken to calling Obama a moderate, both to quixotically attempt to reposition him for next year, and to express their sense of disappointment.) But as Jonah Goldberg writes in the L.A. Times — where you know this column will go over well amongst their readers who still carry once dormant, now thermonuclear cases of Gingrich Derangement Syndrome — “what Newt’s critics don’t — or refuse to — understand about him is that he’s not driven by a lack of empathy but by a surplus of it:”

Anyone who wants to understand Gingrich’s views on poverty should read his March 27, 2008, speech at the American Enterprise Institute (where I’m a visiting fellow). Taking up President Obama’s challenge to start a conversation about race, Gingrich rejected then-candidate Obama’s suggestion that the legacy of racism combined with a failure to fund education to liberals’ satisfaction “helps explain the pervasive achievement gap” in poor inner-city schools.

“That is simply factually false,” Gingrich declared. “The Detroit schools are the third or fourth most expensive schools in America. They’re a disaster.” Washington, D.C., schools — perhaps the most expensive in the country — don’t languish because of racism, Gingrich explained. They’re bad because D.C. “has an incompetent bureaucracy, a failed model of education, a unionized tenured system. It is utterly resistant to improvement. That has nothing to do with racism.”

He noted that when Newsweek asked Oprah Winfrey why she went to South Africa, and not South Chicago, to open a girls school, she responded: “I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn’t there. If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don’t ask for money or toys; they ask for uniforms so they can go to school.”

Gingrich probably agrees with the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan more than any other leading conservative. “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society,” Moynihan observed. “The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” A constant theme of Gingrich’s career is a desire to use government to fix the culture.

That’s the irony of the Gingrich surge. All of these Republican voters who once supported Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, and are now flocking to Gingrich, seem not to have noticed Gingrich’s progressive bent.

Bachmann has, but in a way, she makes the point, in a backhanded way: better a “frugal socialist” than a crony socialist with maxed out credit cards, who doesn’t know when to call it a day and check into to Spenders Anonymous:

In an interview on GBTV, Michele Bachmann criticized Newt Gingrich’s support for the Medicare Part D prescription drug entitlement program, calling him a “frugal socialist.”

“It doesn’t help to have a frugal socialist,” Bachmann said. “That’s really what we’re talking about is managing socialism and trying to be a frugal socialist.”

Host Glenn Beck invited her to repeat the accusation, asking her pointblank whether she was calling Newt Gingrich a socialist.

“I’m saying a frugal socialist, yes! Because you’re looking at proposals and programs that are in effect redistribution of wealth and socialism-based, and are we going to have real change in the country or are we going to have frugal socialists?”

The frugal socialist from 2001 to 2008 is looking better all the time, at least in comparison to his would-be successor:

And as Seth Mandel writes at Commentary, Newt shouldn’t immunized “from accusations that he has become a creature of Washington:”

But I think it’s an important corollary to the discussion over why Gingrich, a moderate with shifting political sensibilities, has surged so far ahead in the polls of Mitt Romney​, a moderate with shifting political sensibilities. I mentioned last week that Romney lacks a record of fighting side by side with conservatives throughout his career. Gingrich obviously lacks no such experience. Here, for example, is the cover of the first-ever issue of The Weekly Standard:

[Click over for illustration — Ed]

People remember the battles won and the battles lost. But conservatives remember the cultural threat they saw in the Clinton administration, and a Republican victory so momentous it caused Clinton to carp “the president is relevant here” at a press conference months later. The most charming man in politics, who happened to be the leader of the free world, was all but sidelined by Newt Gingrich.

Concurrently, during this period, while Congressional Republicans were ascendent in 1994, Romney was explicitly running away from the Reagan Revolution, something voters also remember.