A Sign of Things to Come: Gingrichian Accountability

For me, this was the most interesting exchange from last night’s debate in Jacksonville. Gingrich was asked to actually explain something he had said about Mitt Romney. He responded by, in essence, calling Wolf Blitzer an idiot for even asking the question and inferring that answering it was beneath his dignity and the high-minded tone of the event. He also added this little gem:

GINGRICH: I did. And I’m perfectly happy to say that on an interview on some TV show. But this is a national debate, where you have a chance to get the four of us to talk about a whole range of issues.

We should expect more of the same should Gingrich win the presidency.

As you know, Gingrich unveiled a grandiose space plan earlier this week that literally promises the moon within 9 year. Unfortunately, he will likely end up abandoning and postponing many elements of his vision when they prove to be impractical or clash with his other political and budgetary priorities.

Inevitably, someone will call him on it, and the response will probably be the same. Gingrich will call it a non-sense question that distracts from much more important issues or space accomplishments or God knows what’s going on that moment/day/week. Those promises were perfectly fine for him to make at an appearance at some campaign event, Gingrich will huff, but he’s President now and well…things are different. And you’re an idiot for even asking.

Now, it’s true that all candidates make promises that they don’t keep once in office. And that’s not always a bad thing; campaign promises can be pretty idiotic. But, with Gingrich, we’re dealing with someone whose tendency toward grandiose plans and statements is matched by his equal disdain for anyone who dares hold him accountability for them.

That’s a great way to campaign as long as your questioner backs down, as moderators Juan Williams and John King did during earlier debates. Gingrich managed to get the crowd on his side, which helped him win South Carolina. But, Blitzer held his ground, and the candidate looked much the worse for it.

Gingrich’s approach is actually a rather lousy way to actually govern. The country will get really sick of it, really fast. It was one of the reasons Gingrich lasted only four years as Speaker of the House, and why his party lost seats in Congress while President Bill Clinton was being impeached. A lot of people came to hate the speaker, and his own party was ready to vote him out of that post before he quit Congress all together.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually like many of Gingrich’s space ideas, although I believe the scope and time lines are beyond what we can do in the next nine years. It’s a good starting point.

On space policy, I prefer him to Romney, who has offered nothing of substance to date. His plan to get everyone together to figure out a plan later seems both naive (good luck with that — few of the parties involved agree on much of anything) and lazy campaigning. You can basically translate that as:

“I don’t really care about this issue. I haven’t really thought about it. And I figured this primary race would be over by now.”

Romney’s showing complete insensitivity to the suffering along the Space Coast. It’s a major problem in Florida, and all Romney does is bash Obama’s policy, mock Gingrich’s ideas, and brag about how he would “fire” anyone who brought a plan to settle the moon. What is it with this guy and firing people? You’d think he’s avoid such talk in a state devastated by layoffs, especially given the criticism of his tenure running  Bain Capital.

Ron Paul and Rick Santorum similarly dismissed Gingrich’s plan as being the last thing that voters want to hear about as America slowly recovers from a severe recession. Gingrich retorted that his plan would be 90 percent funded by the private sector. It’s a worthy goal, but until we see some actual figures of how that would be accomplished, it’s a good bet that he’s pulling those numbers out of his ***.

One other issue: about Gingrich’s plan to give statehood to the first lunar colony to exceed 13,000 residents. It’s really pissing me off. Not because of the weighty legal questions involved, which I’ll leave to a later discussion. But, because he’s proposing this while there are 600,000 residents in the District of Columbia who lack any voting rights in Congress.

Gingrich and his party has consistently blocked any moves toward correcting this flaw in the Constitution. They refuse to consider granting DC statehood, or a single voting member in the House, or allowing residents to vote in Maryland Senate elections. The reason is partisan: DC votes overwhelmingly Democratic. And that wouldn’t be good for the GOP.

As a former resident of Arlington, Virginia, it appalled me that I had two voting Senators and one Representative in Congress while my friends across the river had none. It’s unfair. It’s un-American. More than half a million of my fellow Americans are being treated as second class denizens.

That Gingrich can envision a fully functioning American state on the moon is great. It shows terrific vision that few other politicians have or are willing to admit publicly. That Gingrich can’t envision equal status for DC residents — the people who live outside the White House he wants to reside in — shows the flip side of the man’s grandiose personality. It would be a helluva lot easier than setting up a colony on the moon if the Republican simply dropped their opposition to some form of representation for DC.

Alas, that’s too mundane a problem for Gingrich. And it would hurt his party’s chances in Congress. So, by nature that becomes impossible while a state on the moon is not only plausible, its preferable.

And all that raises another serious question about a possible Gingrich presidency: would he be so focused on grandiose visions that he would be unable to run the government effectively?  If it’s about anything, the U.S. government is about the mundane. Lose sight of that, and you end up with disasters like the responses to hurricanes Katrine and Andrew.