Newt Gingrich Takes A Break From The Crazy To Make A Decent Point About Legislating

by evanmcmurry

Take it from a veteran observer: Newt Gingrich’s id-consumed-extemporaneous-word-salad-stream-of-consciousness-zoogastic performance art occasionally yields dividends.

Today, Gingrich was asked about John Roberts’s switcheroo to simultaneously uphold the individual mandate, save health care, balloon Obama’s election chances, deflate conservative momentum in the Supreme Court, and completely alter the political arithmetic of the judiciary. I’ve been over the various ways conservatives are attempting to spin this to their advantage, with less and less success. But Newt’s never been one for the script. He’s the GOP’s method actor, and he just goes with the moment, man:

What Roberts has said is, “Yes, it’s constitutional because of a gigantic tax increase, and if you don’t want the gigantic tax increase you’ve got to beat Obama.” You don’t just get to come to the Supreme Court to bail you out. And I happen to think that part of it is probably healthy for the country to be forced to confront, that it’s their burden.

That’s…not a bad point. You know when Gingrich and Gin & Tacos agree on a basic point that something’s up. Here’s G&T on the same subject:

Simply put, there is a good argument to be made that the Supreme Court is resolving a greater number of political issues because the actual political process – Congress and state legislatures, presidents and governors – refuses to do so. Our elected officials, rather than make decisions about hot button issues and risk infuriating half of their constituents, willingly punt to the guys who can’t be punished on Election Day.

Consider the choice facing members of Congress. One option is to introduce a bill about some controversial topic – abortion, gay marriage, healthcare reform, etc. – and then go on record for or against it. Another is to tread water, maintain the status quo, talk out of both sides of one’s mouth on the issue, and wait for the Supreme Court to issue a decision that may end up being unpopular. Rational self-interest suggests that the second option is superior for most elected officials. Consider the Republican House majority after 2010, which could very well have debated and voted on one of the “repeal and replace” bills for “Obamacare” that candidates talked about so much during the election. In practice, and recognizing how popular some (but not all) parts of the law are among the public, they decided to wait and let the Supreme Court strike it down. Obviously that strategy failed…

It is popular in recent years to write about the failure of leadership in today’s political class, often by resorting to sophomoric references to “common sense” and “guts”…Perhaps it is a lack of resolve; perhaps it is simply a rational response to the incentives laid out in our elections, particularly the financial incentive to placate the greatest number of interest groups to the greatest possible extent. Regardless, the Federal bench and the Supreme Court in particular resolve contentious political questions for an uncomplicated reason: someone has to, and the lawmakers won’t.

Gingrich goes on to spout words in no particular order about how Roberts’s decision is a victory for Grover Norquist, and how this is going to be Obama’s worst nightmare (Obama does often dream of being reelected), and all in all resumes his place as a semi-irrelevant upside-down slam poet of the right.

But credit where credit’s due: Gingrich’s point, that the judiciary can’t be counted on to do the work of dysfunctional legislatures anymore, is a solid one. And he can put all the conservative english on it he wants, but only one party is responsible, on a state and federal level, for that dysfunction. Which means Republican lawmakers should think twice before voting along intractable party lines against any and every bill that doesn’t fit their tea party pledges, as there might not be a judicial escape hatch later in the process. And omitting yourself from the legislative process out of ideological petulance, as David Frum told them oh so many years ago, is a good way to get booted out of governing entirely.

Gingrich may or may not have intended his comment as a warning to younger conservatives; either way, it should be taken as one.