Shifting with the wind

SHIFTING WITH THE WIND…. Part of the problem with Newt Gingrich’s role in the political discourse is that his comments on policy issues don’t make any sense. But let’s not overlook the other part of the problem: Gingrich isn’t above contradicting himself, if he thinks there’s a political advantage to doing so.

Media Matters tracked down some thoughts the former House Speaker shared in an interview with PBS just two years ago:

“I think if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur, and if you have a tax-incentive program for investing in the solutions, that there’s a package there that’s very, very good. And frankly, it’s something I would strongly support…. The caps, with a trading system, on sulfur has worked brilliantly because it has brought free-market attitudes, entrepreneurship and technology and made it very profitable to have less sulfur. So people said, ‘Wow, it’s worth my time and effort.’ Americans get incentives. Americans like winning.”

Last week, the same person said mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system is a radical idea and an example of “environmental extremism.” Kevin Drum noted, “Well, that’s Newt for you: he dumps policy positions as quickly as he dumps wives.”

What’s more, in 1997, Gingrich took a firm stand against detainee abuse, political imprisonment, and torture, insisting, “[T]here is no place for abuse in what must be considered the family of man.” He added, “The foundation of American values, therefore, is not a passing priority or a temporary trend.”

The same Gingrich now isn’t sure if waterboarding is torture, and believes those concerned about Bush administration policies make up the “anti-American left.”

I argued yesterday that Gingrich’s role as a leading Republican voice points to a party with a leadership problem. But Avedon Carol raised a related point that bears repeating: Gingrich helps direct the GOP message, in part because the party encourages him, and in part because major news outlets keep giving him a platform, and presenting his ideas as having real value.

The media seems to consider Gingrich some kind of conservative genius. Indeed, David Broder described him a couple of years ago as a genuine “visionary.”

He’s not. Gingrich is a pseudo-intellectual con man.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.