Newt Gingrich is only a nominal conservative. He is inconsistent in the extreme and prone to half-baked ideas, like “futurism.” He has proven weak on culture war issues, particularly those involving national identity and immigration, and he has proven equally weak, as of late, on issues like the broad based conservative concern for shrinking government. Recall he castigated the honest and brilliant Rep. Paul Ryan some months ago for speaking the painful truth about our entitlement regime.
More important than all of this, his personal life is an embarrassment in more ways than one. Not only is a serial adulterer, but he is boldly hypocritical, ripping on President Clinton in the 1990s for his sexual anarchy as he cheated on his own wife.
We don’t need a guy like this as our front runner, and it would be doubtful that he would get very far in a general election. Our president defines our national values in important ways, and Obama to his credit lives a sober and normal family life, as did George W. Americans have retreated from the amoral indifferentism of the 1990s on this issue, and that is a good thing.
Of course, it is worrisome that the alternative of Romney has a record of not merely changing positions but being, at his core, all things to all people. I’m reminded of that popular book among academics, The Man Without Qualities. He is on most issues lacking an ideological compass at all. He is, however, securely pro business, patriotic, and competent, even if he’s not always a profile in moral courage with respect to public issues. Maybe this isn’t so bad. Ideology can be a double edged sword, as most “conservatives” really are right-leaning liberals of one kind or another. And this ideological belief that they are conservative and tough coupled with liberal beliefs at the core can lead to pig-headed disaster moves that masquerade as right wing beliefs, as we saw in George W. Bush’s fanatical attachment to open borders and exporting democracy. Nonideological pragmatists at least have the benefit of being attuned by nature to the public mood. Of course one fears what they’ll fight for when they must move against the ever-shifting public mood, which is all too easily manipulated by media images and politically correct guilt-tripping of one kind or another. Not much is the most likely answer.
We can safely say a Romney would not be as bad or dangerous as an Obama. But we can also safely say that any such presidency would likely damage the Republican brand in distinctive ways, because, like W, I expect Romney as President would at once be a hated figure, but at the same time would be hated for symbolic reasons and not for pushing sound, though unpopular, conservative policies.
I’m more at peace with all of this than I might once have been. Life doesn’t always give you the luxury of the perfect candidate or a perfect world. Politics will always be disappointing, full of venal and power hungry creatures, and only able, at most, to create the conditions for a decent society and a secure economy. It cannot transform our society for the better, nor easily reverse the cultural and demographic decline that drives so many of our problems. Understanding all that, we can at least look at things more dispassionately and without expecting a savior to rescue us from ourselves.