By George Will
WASHINGTON – Newt Gingrich – the friend of his detractors, to whom he offers serial vindications – provided on Monday redundant evidence for the proposition that he is the least conservative candidate seeking the Republican nomination. He faulted Mitt Romney for committing acts of capitalism.
Gingrich did so when goaded by Romney regarding his, Gingrich’s, self-described service as a “historian” for Freddie Mac, which paid him more handsomely than anyone paid Herodotus. Romney was asked by an interviewer about the $1.6 million Gingrich earned, or at any rate received, from Freddie Mac, the misbegotten government-backed mortgage giant. In the service of Washington’s bipartisan certitude that too few people owned houses, Freddie Mac helped produce the housing bubble and subsequent crash. It did so even though it paid Gingrich $30,000 an hour. That is about what he received if, as he says, he worked for Freddie Mac about an hour a month, telling it that what it was doing was “insane.”
Anyway, Romney’s interviewer mischievously asked him if he thought Gingrich should “give that money back” to Freddie Mac. Romney said, “I sure do.” Soon thereafter, Gingrich, when asked about Romney’s cheeky judgment, replied: “I would just say that if Gov. Romney would like to give back all the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain, that I would be glad to listen to him.”
Gingrich is reusing the attack honed by Ted Kennedy in 1994, when Romney suffered a 17-point loss in attempting to take Kennedy’s Senate seat.
Romney, while at Bain Capital, performed the essential social function of connecting investment resources with opportunities.
Intra-party competitions are supposed to reveal candidates’ potential susceptibilities to attacks. Two unfair attacks against Romney concern his polish and his past. Four years ago, Mike Huckabee, targeting Romney without mentioning him, slyly said, “I want to be a president who reminds you of the guy you work with, not the guy who laid you off.” And there is a photograph of Romney that will eventually be seen far and wide (and can be seen at http://bit.ly/svv3Ho). It shows a young Romney and six Bain colleagues feeling their oats, with paper currency protruding from their dark suits. The young men are overflowing with what John Maynard Keynes called “animal spirits.”
We should welcome such spirits and should hope for political leadership that will hasten the day when American conditions are again receptive to them. Until then, economic dynamism will not return. We should not expect Gingrich to understand this until he understands that his work for Freddie Mac was not, as he laughably insists, in “the private sector.”
He probably believes that. He seems to believe there is always some higher synthesis, inaccessible to lesser intellects, that makes all his contradictions disappear. One awaits the synthesizing of his multicity tour in 2009 with Barack Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Al Sharpton promoting “a common education reform” of primary and secondary schools.
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Disclosure: This columnist’s wife, Mari Will, is an adviser to Rick Perry. George Will’s email address is email@example.com. He writes for The Washington Post Writers Group.