Newt Gingrich the Jacksonian
Since the start of his campaign, Newt Gingrich has cast himself as a man of the people and a Reagan Republican. Newt resembles a former president, all right, but it is not Reagan. Newt Gingrich seems to be a 21st-century return of President Andrew Jackson.
This thought first occurred to me in the aftermath of Gingrich's assertion that, as president, he would ignore the Supreme Court, a sentiment similar to a phrase attributed to Andrew Jackson: "[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it." Eventually I saw five ways in which Gingrich is similar to Jackson. They are his: 1. ambition, 2. appeal as a populist, 3. history of dealing with the national debt, 4. judicial mistrust, and 5. belief in the supremacy of states' rights (when convenient).
In and of itself, ambition is not bad, especially when it is tempered with restraint. Jackson was born and raised in rural western North Carolina. He practiced law on the Tennessee frontier but was never content to stay there; he was elected to the House, the Senate, and eventually the presidency. Likewise, Gingrich started his career as a professor in western Georgia, but, as The Wall Street Journal recently reported, he had plans far beyond the small school. He has served in the House as a member and then as speaker. Now, like Jackson, his sights are on the presidency.
Jackson was a populist who was well-liked by the common men of America. Jackson's popular appeal is best typified by his first inaugural ball, which he opened to the public. The attending crowd became so large and disorderly that he was given the nickname "King Mob." In a similar way, Gingrich is running as a populist standing against the political elite. Without any apparent irony, he describes himself as a "Washington outsider" who brings a viewpoint that most "traditional politicians" don't have. Jackson was popular with the common man though he was a rich slave-owner; Gingrich describes himself as a Washington outsider in spite of serving in the House for 20 years, including four years as speaker.
National debt and banking
During Jackson's presidency, the national debt was paid off. He also opposed the national bank and vetoed its charter. Unfortunately, due to Jackson's actions, local and state banks overextended themselves in credit and speculation. This eventually led to a national depression that lasted from 1837 through 1844. Similarly, Gingrich was partially responsible for balancing of the federal budget while speaker. However, he was later a consultant for Freddie Mac from 2001 through 2010. Sadly, Freddie Mac's lending practices led to the housing bubble, which, when it burst, led to the current Great Recession.
Jackson is historically associated with judicial mistrust. Not only did he famously clash with Marshall, but he also believed that the executive branch was independent of judicial controls in certain situations. Gingrich seems to share this judicial defiance. On his campaign website he states his plan to nominate conservative judges as well as combat judicial activism by "utilizing checks on judicial power Constitutionally available to the elected branches of government."
Supremacy of states' rights
Jackson was a descendent of Jeffersonian democracy, which had a historical emphasis on states' rights. While he was president, though, he increased the power of the executive branch and the overall federal government. Gingrich is running as a conservative Republican, a position which has traditionally been pro-states' rights. However, at Huckabee's Presidential Forum last December, he implied that the 10th Amendment was a source of federal power and explained that the federal government can go around states to empower boards in cities and towns. It seems that states' rights are convenient when campaigning but are easily forgotten when in office.
Newt Gingrich is promoting himself as a man of the people and a Reagan Republican. Nevertheless, I believe he more closely resembles Andrew Jackson than he does Ronald Reagan. He and Jackson share many core values, and it is no stretch to believe a Gingrich presidency will resemble Jackson's, the long-term effects of which include a serious depression, the Civil War, and the modern Democratic Party. Is this the type of conservative Republicans are looking for? I doubt Reagan would think so.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore