Newt Gingrich, Right-Wing Progressive?

While Democrats are sure to fall all over themselves portraying Newt Gingrich as a laissez-faire extremist, there is little if anything in the actual public record to support that portrayal. Indeed, I saw Gingrich give a talk at the height of his power, circa mid-1995, via the Smithsonian Associates program. The only reason I remember it is because I was so surprised, and appalled, at the theme: that to solve modern problems we should emulate the early 20th century Progressives, who combined opposition to socialism with support for a “can do” government that could bust trusts, build infrastructure, and otherwise create public goods. If he had any concerns about the foibles and fallacies of the Progressives, I don’t believe he mentioned them. It’s been sixteen years, so further details are vague, but I distinctly recall that my companion and I, both libertarians, went in admiring Newt, and left both disgusted and with a distinct impression, given the grandiosity of his vision that “this [i.e., his Speakership] isn’t going to end well.”

And please note that while Progressivism is today associated with the “left,” historical Progressivism encompassed many important figures who would not have been considered such (and wouldn’t have considered themselves such) at the time, most prominently Theodore Roosevelt. What they had in common with their left-leaning compatriots was opposition to laissez-faire, faith in government’s ability to solve and manage social problems, and, with regard to the politicians among them, confidence in their own ability to lead and direct the masses for the latter’s own good.

Go Huntsman?

UPDATE: Note that the types of reforms that Gingrich advocated in the ’90s–term limits, balanced budget amendment, rotating committee chairs, and so forth–are the types of reforms that the Progressive movement successfully embraced one hundred years ago (think of recalls, referenda, Senatorial elections, judicial selection committees, and so forth).

In a sense, Gingrich’s lack of ideological pro-limited government compass could make him a dangerous enemy. But exactly why Tea Party Republicans should embrace him, beyond understandable dissatisfaction with Romney, is unclear. One thing in Romney’s favor: he took moderate, often anti-libertarian positions while governing a very liberal state, suggesting that he may in fact have more conservative and pro-free market views. Gingrich’s statist inclinations, by contrast, seem entirely sincere.

Related, TPM via a commenter: “The Libertarian Intelligentsia is Freaking Out over Newt.”