What are Newt Gingrich’s big ideas?

at 01:10 PM ET, 01/22/2012

On Saturday’s edition of “Up With Chris Hayes,” Gary Johnson brought up an old Newt Gingrich idea I hadn’t heard before: Putting individuals who brought more than two ounces of marijuana into the United States to death. That sounded extreme, even for Gingrich. So I looked it up. And sure enough, there it is: “The Drug Importer Death Penalty Act of 1996.” What makes the bill even more amazing is that Gingrich himself is a confessed pot smoker. When he was young, he said, experimenting with drugs “was a sign we were alive and in graduate school in that era.”


Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. (Getty Images)
Asked at Thursday night’s debate to name his campaign regrets, Gingrich said that he wished he had been “a big-ideas, big-solutions, Internet-based campaign from day one.” But like Ross Douthat, I’m at a loss to name even one big idea animating Gingrich’s campaign.

He’s got the largest and most fiscally irresponsible tax cut in the race, but he doesn’t mention it much. His plans to cut spending are vague. He says he agrees with Ron Paul on the dangers of fiat money and the Federal Reserve, but he hasn’t proposed doing anything about it. Last night, during his speech in South Carolina, the only policy he explained in any detail was a proposal to allow offshore drilling off the coast of Louisiana and use the resulting revenues to modernize the port. That would be a medium-sized idea if he was running for governor of Louisiana. It’s the 14th bullet point in your energy policy when you’re running for president.

Broadly speaking, this seems typical for Gingrich’s career: His ideas on the big issues are standard-issue conservatism, and they’re mixed in with occasional flights of fancy (illuminate highways using orbiting mirrors that reflect moonlight), pure plays to resentment and fear (execute 19-year-olds who are stupidly trying to smuggle two ounces of pot from Mexico), and a lot of small, specific ideas, like the Louisiana port reconstruction. But perhaps I’m wrong. Can anyone name some actually big, actually workable, actually new ideas that Gingrich has been associated with during his career? What has he brought to the table that wouldn’t have been there in his absence?

 
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