Newt Gingrich was the grinch, the man attributed with bringing a new level of nastiness and partisanship to the Congress. And so I was surprised to hear an interview with him on NPR saying that he said he gave Obama “extremely high” marks for his transition and lauded him for, unlike Roosevelt, taking action between election day and inauguration. Gingrich actually argued for doubling funds for the National Science Foundation. This after a decade of Republican attacks on scientific research.
He’s critical of all these huge bailouts, saying that the money is being wasted, which I think most Americans agree with. However, deviating from the classic Republican playbook, Gingrich is not against spending these huge sums. He’s against what he calls “pothole projects” meaning projects that employ someone to wield a shovel while the money lasts, but have no strategic importance. He wants to see projects like the transcontinental railway and the interstate highway system — big strategic spending that will benefit the American people for decades to come (and he didn’t bother to point out that both of these projects were started by Republican presidents).
And, I would never have thought it possible, he seems to really believe that the current crisis has put us past partisanship for the next few years. Either Obama will succeed and the country will be better off in three years or he won’t and nothing else will matter in 2012, so there’s no point in partisan snarking.
Gingrich even said there are things government does well, and audacious projects like the transcontinental railroad belong in that category. So much for “government is not the solution, it’s the problem” (Ronald Reagan). He does worry about government frittering away money on meaningless projects in each congressional district. As he says, Lincoln didn’t push for a small railroad in each congressional district, but a transcontinental railway. There’s a difference.
I think at one point, Gingrich hoped me might become the party’s next Ronald Reagan, but in office he turned out to be a nasty, petty politician. Out of office, though, he seems to be running to be his party’s Jimmy Carter — the politician who had terrible execution in office, but seems increasingly effective with each year he stays out of office. Almost makes me want to forgive the guy