I wasn't wholly serious earlier with my plea to Newt Gingrich to enter the GOP race (and by my obsession with the Definer, I date myself), but watching the Des Moines debate, I was struck by how much the characteristic gesture of Gingrichism has taken hold in most the field. I would describe that gesture as a marriage of minimalist government, minimal or no taxes, with grand, grand gestures of public ambition and spending -- without even a moment's self-awareness of the contradiction. Thus, Gingrich could call for abolition of the Department of Education and in the next paragraph call for a federal initiative to give every schoolchild a laptop computer! (Back in 1995, when that was a big deal.)

Thus the candidates insist that no taxes will ever rise and there will be more large cuts, some would abolish the IRS; they promise that the deficit must be reduced, that programs of some sort can be cut, and then they turn around and make grand calls for Public Investment!! in climate-change technology, in education, and in defense. We'll all be winners!

That's music to my ears (except for defense), but it has no relationship to the rest of the Republican agenda. And while it might seem like the standard Republican hypocrisy, it's really not the language of Bush in 2000 or 2004, who neither proposed abolishing the IRS nor big public investments. "Compassionate Conservatism" promised moderation in both directions. Which was a lie, but a different lie from the one these guys are telling.

--Mark Schmitt

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