Monday, January 23, 2012

The difference between Gingrich and Romney distilled

Andrew Sullivan takes a crowbar to the political scientists' notion of a Republican "party establishment" and bends it into its new shape: a 'leadership" captured by Limbaugh and Fox, bound to adopt rhetoric and policy that runs on demonizing the opposition -- by means that Gingrich pioneered.

Reading Sullivan's precis of Gingrich's speech, it struck me that the difference between Gingrich and Romney is embedded in one phrase:
Listen to Gingrich's victory speech. It was completely, fundamentally, organizationally Manichean, if you'll pardon the expression. He limned a familiar battle between independence and dependence, pay-checks vs food stamps, America vs "Europe", the American people vs elites "forcing people" for 35 years not to be American, the traditional America vs the "secular, European style socialist bureaucratic system". There is no gray here. There is no nuance. And there is the imputation to the other side of malign motives, secret agendas and foreignness that has been Gingrich's hallmark since the very beginning, when he assaulted the traditions of the Congress until that institution eventually had to repel him (emphasis guess whose).
Romney's claims that Obama wants to turn the U.S. into a European-style social welfare state - -with the caveat that Obama is not a socialist -- is infuriating to Democrats, gilded as it is with lies such as that Obama seeks equality of outcomes. But it's thin gruel compared with Gingrich's food stamp president -- which is visceral, vicious, racist, and dizzyingly effective with the talk show culture Sullivan outlines.  "Food stamp president" is Gingrichspeak for Romney's dishonest-but-inhibited diss. 
Really I'm just restating Sullivan's core point: Gingrich can channel the base bile; Romney can't. But it really seems to me that that one phrase carries the whole ball of pus.

A caveat: I don't think that the poli sci model of a party establishment has been upended -- just complicated. I believe Romney will win out in the end. The empire will strike back.

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