Newt, What’s Your Point?

Although newts and lizards are only distantly related through the phylum Chordata, some share similar attributes and behavioral patterns. For example, some newts can run over water like the green basilisk, aka the ‘Jesus lizard.’ Ok, there is only one such Newt that does this and he spoke at the Chapel last week. Although his first name does not aptly define his physique, his political orientation is much like that of the Jesus lizard: darting over the facts.

Mr. Ginrich’s lecture was titled “President Obama & the Future of American Freedom,” and it did not seriously address either. He extolled democracy and ‘Judeo-Christian’ values. When he finally stopped talking about Reagan and morality, he addressed President Obama and the nation’s contemporary state of affairs.

He criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the economic crisis. The only solutions Mr. Gingrich provided were to show fiscal constraint — citing Canada’s government budget as the reason they have been relatively shielded from the crisis – and to fire Treasury Secretary Geithner. Fareed Zakaria, when he came to Colgate in February, explained why Canada is not suffering to the extent that America is: they kept tight banking regulations. The Bush administration increased banks’ legal debt to capital ratio, encouraging risky investments.

As for how we got into this crisis, Mr. Gingrich implicated irresponsibility, Clinton era policies, too much government spending and former Treasury Secretary Paulson. His brief statement about Paulson’s handling of the crisis from its onset was the only direct criticism of Republicans the entire evening. However, his condemnation of wasteful government spending implicitly indicts his party because they expanded government during the Bush era, not Democrats. As for the issue of irresponsibility, he went on his longest tirade of the evening against individuals who lied to get loans and greedy MBAs. He hardly acknowledged the banks, the institutions that issue the loans, and their responsibility in the matter.

The Clinton Era policies he alluded to were the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 and Clinton’s housing initiative. The repeal of Depression era regulatory acts blurred the lines between banks, insurers, and brokerage houses enabling the extreme securitization of debt that helped lead to the current crisis. However, this was a bipartisan blunder led by former chair of the Senate Banking Committee and Republican luminary, Phil ‘we’re in mental recession’ Gram.

The housing initiative addresses discriminatory lending practices. Yes, it gave banks incentives to make shaky loans. However this program only became an issue when Clinton was out of office and was no longer able to enforce the necessary oversight and regulations. Like the Jesus lizard over a pond, Newt Gingrich leaped over many of the facts and years of history in his description of the economic crisis.

In addition to painting a bleak portrait of the impact of Obama’s economic policies, Mr. Gingrich echoed Dick Cheney’s foreign policy sentiment; ‘President’s Obama’s decisions have made us less safe.’ This portion of the lecture was blatant fear mongering; we should now be afraid of electromagnetic pulses and nuclear attacks. Mr. Gingrich was perturbed by Obama’s softened foreign policy stance (I agreed that terrorist attacks shouldn’t be called man-made disasters, a phrase that should be used to describe the Bush years).

However, his solution was to continue the truculent policies of the Bush years. As for Iran, he noted that they had launched a satellite earlier this year and that they could have the capacity to launch nuclear missiles right now. This statement flies in the face of the facts because it was a communications satellite that weighed “about 60 pounds.” He was right to note that Iran has the capability, but they are far from developing a military satellite. This gives America time to act diplomatically. Fortunately, Secretary of State Clinton appointed Dennis Ross, who spoke at Colgate last fall, as the special envoy to Iran. In his lecture, Ross advocated using statecraft instead of only threats.

After he finished his lecture I got up to ask Mr. Gingrich a question. I originally planned to ask about the party’s outreach to college students, Reaganomics, or foreign policy. Instead the interaction between the crowd, Gingrich and another student made me want to ask about Republican divisiveness.

Unfortunately, I worded my question very poorly, coming off as adversarial, which wasn’t my goal when I first walked up to microphone, implying that Republicans only divided people. And I did not want to accept his answer, that he was comfortable with his party being divisive if a majority of people were against same sex marriage.

I went on, scrambling to find examples, stumbling onward to stubbornly insist that the courts can effectively make change in laws. I was wrong and knew from America As A Democracy that courts provide a ‘hollow hope’ for social movements.

Right now it seems that the most popular conservative bumper sticker says, “I will give your President the same respect you gave mine.” On March 8, on “Meet the Press,” Newt Gingrich called anyone who wanted Obama to fail, “irrational,” seeming to be above the party’s petty discontent. On March 28 at Colgate, he abandoned that even-tempered sentiment, suggesting that the very future of America is at risk because of Obama. Gingrich said, “you have to go back to first principles because you don’t have a road map to help you.”

In essence, this absolves Republicans from providing solutions and suggests that they should be trusted based upon their ‘principles.’ Other than issues of ‘morality,’ the principles Gingrich refers to are economic and military; those principles failed. Voters realized this last fall and they will not forget it in 2010.

If the Republicans stay their rigid course, they will not make significant electoral gains and they might incur more losses. Perhaps one of those losses for the Republicans will be John McHugh, who currently represents Colgate University and the rest of the gerrymandered behemoth known as New York’s 23rd Congressional district.