Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Thomas Sowell's Tortured Logic on the Primary

Last week, Thomas Sowell issued another plea for conservatives to rally around Newt Gingrich. It was...questionable.
Rick Santorum has possibilities, but can he survive the media's constant attempts to paint him as some kind of religious nut who would use the government to impose his views on others? And, if he can, will he also be able to go toe-to-toe with Obama in debates?

I would not bet the rent money on it. And what is at stake is far bigger than the rent money.
I have similar reservations about Santorum enabling the media to erect a false narrative about him that he won't be able to overcome, but I think the debates have also shown that his policy chops and passion are more than adequate to mop the stage with Obama.
Mitt Romney is the kind of candidate that the Republican establishment has always looked for, a moderate who can appeal to independents. It doesn't matter how many such candidates have turned out to be disasters on election night, going all the way back to Thomas E. Dewey in 1948.

Nor does it matter that the Republicans' most successful candidate of the 20th century -- Ronald Reagan, with two consecutive landslide victories at the polls -- was nobody's idea of a mushy moderate.

He stood for something. And he could explain what he stood for. These may sound like modest achievements, but they are very rare, especially among Republicans.
Yes, Reagan stood for something. Yes, there are real doubts about what Romney stands for. But it's simply not true that Romney's running as a moderate. He's taken firm conservative stances on everything from taxes and entitlement reform to abortion and gay marriage to the border and Iran. While he might not make good on those promises once in office, the fact remains that he's presenting as bold and uncompromising a contrast to Obama as any of the others. (And shouldn't the "establishment"-baiting be beneath you, Mr. Sowell?)
Newt Gingrich is the only candidate still in the field who can clearly take on Barack Obama in one-on-one debate and cut through the Obama rhetoric and mystique with hard facts and plain logic.
True, Gingrich is easily the best debater in the field, and when he's on his game, he can deliver almost Reaganesque levels of inspiration in his speeches. But there's more to campaigning - and leading - than being good with words. Sowell seems to be betting that the general-election debates will be far more decisive than they're actually likely to be.
Nor is this just a matter of having a gift of gab. Gingrich has a far deeper grasp of both the policies and the politics than the other Republican candidates.
Would that be the deep understanding of conservative politics that led Newt to back federal individual health insurance mandates, bailouts, federal stem-cell research funding, ethanol subsidies, "green conservatism," Dede Scozzafava, amnesty for illegal immigrants, the creation and expansion of the Department of Education, the Bush prescription drug expansion, and the 1987 Pro-Fairness Doctrine, or to oppose Paul Ryan's entitlement reform plan, or to flirt with Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore, John Kerry, Al Sharpton, and Arne Duncan?
Does Gingrich have political "baggage"? More than you could carry on a commercial airliner.

Charges of opportunism have been among the most serious raised against the former Speaker of the House. But being President of the United States is the opportunity of a lifetime. If that doesn't sober a man up, it is hard to imagine what would.
This is the line that was so maddening I had to write this post. It's not even that Sowell's hope of Gingrich sobering up is speculative; it's that we don't have to speculate on this point. Gingrich has been running for that opportunity of a lifetime, and it hasn't sobered him up at all. Despite virtually all of the conservative movement fiercely condemning Gingrich's dishonest attacks on Bain Capital, the man still has so little discipline that he couldn't resist peppering his speech last night with derisive references to Wall Street. It hasn't given him enough self-control to resist smearing Romney as a heartless bastard who starves Holocaust survivors - all the while lamenting how much he wishes he could stay positive. But I guess we're supposed to just have faith that actually becoming president would sober Newt up, even though neither running for president nor being Speaker of the House seemed to do the trick.

Thomas Sowell is an excellent economist, and I doubt he would have much patience if one of his students used such shaky, evidence-free analysis in an economic paper. So why is it good enough for politics?

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