Newt: An "Idea-Spewing Machine" indeed 

Newt! He's just so full of ideas! You can’t get though a profile of the former Speaker without hearing that he's a "one-man think tank," an "idea-spewing machine":

“Newt’s been the Republican Party’s main idea man for close to a generation,” said Terry Holt, a Republican strategist who closely observed Gin­grich as speaker. “This is a guy who brings unlimited energy and creative thinking to a race that needs new ideas.”

Even in the middle of Newt's implosion, Jonah Goldberg chalks his problems up to "the downside of being the smartest guy in the room." It's like his mind was just too fertile for its own good. Tripped up by his all-powerful brain!

But every time I hear somebody blurt that Newt is “an ideas machine,” or suchlike, I want to interject, "name one!" I've been paying attention to the guy for over a decade now, and I'm not sure I could pass the test I've proposed. Off the top of my head, I get a lot of adjectives: "bold," "radical," "transformative," but no specific nouns.

I think of Gingrich catch-phrases like "Real Change Requires Real Change," which has the virtue of being true both backwards and forwards. But it's less a program for action than it is a mind-blowing zen koan.

That phrase, by the way, is from Newt's 2006 book “Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America,”.

It ought to tell you something that before Team Obama came up with the vacuous slogan "Winning the Future," Newt got there first. He wuz robbed! Never mind, though: he's keeping it. On right now, it looks like Newt and Obama are going to base their 2012 campaigns on the same slogan.

In fairness, Gingrich has come up with some specific ideas. But the more specific they get, the loopier they seem to be, as with his suggestion that we should use lasers to launch a preventive attack on a North Korean missile test, or his proposal that "federal judges who've served in combat" get special powers to shut down Islamist websites.

Sure, Newt's a smart guy. But he's an "ideas man" in much the same way as the character Hedley Lamarr from Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles: "My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives!" 

Mostly, though, Newt is an object lesson in the importance of firm hand-gestures and an authoritative delivery. That sort of thing goes a long way in Washington--it can even earn you an impressive rep as a deep thinker.

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Gene Healy

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