Newt Gingrich has lately been on the scene, attempting to convince people that he owns a portfolio of self-conceived innovations for the GOP and for America, but this marketing campaign has mostly proven to be unconvincing for anyone with cerebral activity. Matt Yglesias pretty much called this one correctly when he noted: "At his best, Gingrich is good at dressing up an interest-group agenda (let us drill more places) as something somewhat more ennobling." You'll hear similar criticism from reform-minded Republicans like Ross Douthat, as well. I tend to think that Gingrich basically oversells some incremental acknowledgments to the fact that the world has up and left him behind as a means of reselling his old bill of goods.
That's why the news that Gingrich is going to take a deep dive into the well of religious fanaticism is hardly surprising:
Gingrich has launched an organization devoted to bringing conservative evangelicals and Catholics into the political process and to strengthening the frayed alliance between economic and religious conservatives. Called Renewing American Leadership, the group is led by Gingrich's longtime communications director and includes some of the country's top conservative Christian activists on its board.
Yes, you are right. It is this attempt at reconciling economic conservatism with a bunch of zealots who want their off-putting, theocratic demands met at all times that has cost the Republican party a broad swath of middle-of-the-road voters. But what else does Gingrich know how to do? Naturally, this idea comes enrobed in the vapor of new ideas - or at least what some people will tell you is new:
"In the last few years I've decided that we're in a crisis in which the secular state, if allowed, will fundamentally and radically change America against the wishes of most Americans," Gingrich said in a phone interview on Thursday. "You've had such rising hostility to religious belief that I wanted to reach broadly into the country and dramatically raise public awareness of threats to religious liberty."
Right. Such hostility! Why just last weekend I was at sixes and sevens, trying to decide whether I should go to the public crucifixion or just relax with some good old missionary-vs-lion action on ESPN2. It's just so hard out there for religion, what with all the tax-exemptions and the widespread freedoms of worship!
Anyway, once you strip off the fashionable neo-martyrism of the message, what do you get underneath? Just the same old interest group agendas:
Just this week, Gingrich's new group partnered with the American Family Association--the conservative evangelical organization headed Don Wildmon--to encourage churches and religious groups to participate in no-more-taxes rallies across the country on April 15. Rick Tyler, who served as Gingrich's spokesman before becoming founding director of Renewing American Leadership, says that on the first day of the largely Web-based organizing effort, 5,000 people signed up to attend the rallies.
Right. The Club For Growth is still looking for Jesus' endorsement, I guess. This is the "new idea" that Gingrich believes is going to restore the GOP? There's just not a single drop of zeit or geist to be found.