Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thoughts on Ideological Perfection: Standing with Speaker Newt Gingrich in Newport Beach

Lincoln once said: "Stand with anybody that stands right, stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong." In that spirit, Tricia and I did a crazy thing today and drove up to attend Speaker Newt Gingrich's book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Fashion Island, Newport Beach, CA.

It seemed like a crazy thing to do and so we did it. We drove along the coast and didn't have a clue where the bookstore was located. In the parking lot Tricia surprised me by asking some other folks for directions. We drove to the other side of the mall and were right in time to see Speaker Gingrich signing books with a thick felt tip pen.

I was first aware of Rep. Gingrich in 1988. I was a hopeless GOPAC candidate back back then and I was recruited by the local Republican party to play a small role in keeping some of Gov. Michael Dukakis' top lieutenants pinned down in MA instead of working for Gov. Dukakis in Iowa or where ever. The whole thing was a disaster, in part, because I was a registered Democrat at the time and needed to change my party registration and run for office at the same time.

Nevertheless, I listened to Rep. Newt Gingrich on tape for hours learning the details of how to run a political campaign. The summer I spent running for a state assembly seat in MA was one of the happiest of my life.

I wanted to use my scarce moments with Speaker Gingrich wisely so I shared with him something he probably already knew - that I had met the young Barack Obama while he was a sophomore at Occidental College and that he was definitely a Marxist at that time. "Did you ever think he would become President?" Gingrich asked. "No...never," I said, "he was a drinker and a drug user...a party guy when I knew him." After that, we fumbled through the photos and Speaker Gingrich was gracious and charming with us. He observed that I was "efficient" and sort of made my day.

In a larger sense, however, I was wanted to make the extra effort to see Speaker Gingrich today because he is taking heat for defending a liberal Republican running for office in New York's 23 Congressional District. This is a special election caused by Obama's willingness to attract an otherwise unbeatable GOP Congressman, John McHugh, into quitting Congress to become Secretary of the Army.

The liberal Republican candidate emerged, in part, because New York state law requires each party's 11 county chairmen in the district to pick their candidate. The local GOP county chairmen chose Dede Scozzafava, a five-term state assemblywoman. Unhappy with this result, one of the more conservative nomination seekers, Doug Hoffman, bailed on the Republican party and got into the same race through a different party affiliation - the Conservative Party.

Gov. Sarah Palin and a lot of other Republicans I admire have endorsed Hoffman. Gingrich, however, has pleaded with them to show more deference for the local New York Republican party. As you might suppose, Gingrich is in a lonely position right now. Nevertheless, I think he is right to suggest that we should be focusing more on our enemies and less on the qualifications of our Republican candidates. I think he is right to assert that a stress on ideological purity makes it impossible to assemble large majorities. Purges of imperfect Republicans is the sure road to minority party status.

Part of the reason why ideological purity burns out political parties is systemic. Our U.S. Constitution sets us up with single seat, majority rule Congressional elections. Such election rules are murder for third parties. Luckily for Republicans, however, only a small change in the electorate can produce broad and massive change in party control of Congress and subsequent public policy achievements. As such, I think Newt Gingrich is on the right track in asking for some ideological slack in an environment where the conventional wisdom is demanding righteous purity to Republican ideals.

All in all, it was a pleasure and an honor to met Speaker Newt Gingrich face-to-face today. I was proud to stand with him.

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