Well, that didn’t take long.
On Sunday, I wrote that Newt Gingrich possesses an active and creative, if impulsive and sometimes unrestrained, mind; that Gingrich understands, at least intellectually, his past weaknesses, including his lack of discipline and propensity to use strident, even apocalyptic, language; and that I had my doubts whether a man at Gingrich’s age can re-make himself. “But Gingrich now has his chance to prove me, and others like me, wrong. Stay tuned.”
A day later Gingrich, in a speech in New Hampshire, referred to the Congressional Budget Office as a “reactionary, socialist institution” which “does not believe in economic growth, does not believe in innovation and does not believe in data that it has not internally generated.”
Formed in 1974, the CBO’s mandate is to provide Congress with objective, nonpartisan, and timely analysis on economic and budgetary matters. While its work is highly speculative and it sometimes operates on premises different than conservatives do (it doesn’t score market effects, choosing what is known as a “static” analysis), CBO is widely respected, its staff professional, and its budget analysts strive to get things right and follow their mission statement. The staff at CBO also makes a point of being very transparent in their analyses and base them, in large part, on surveying the spectrum of academic work and data. It has a long history of annoying the proponents of legislation that it analyzes, whether it be Democrats or Republicans, regardless of who is appointed the director. As far as agencies in Washington go, it’s among the more impressive ones. We’re better with it than without it.
All of which make Gingrich’s comments unfair (as well as somewhat odd). They’re evidence of a quality that’s familiar to anyone who has watched Gingrich over the years –the intentionally provocative language, the imprecision and recklessness of the charge, and the need to frame matters on which reasonable people might disagree as children of light v. children of darkness.
I rather doubt Gingrich’s attacks on CBO will hurt him one bit; there isn’t a huge CBO constituency in the country these days. And this effort is part of a broader strategy to make Gingrich, a well-known Washington insider, into an outsider. But what was said is a small reminder of the drawbacks of Gingrich.
Gingrich strikes me as a person who is at his best when the chips are down — and most dangerous to himself when he’s on top of the world. Right now Gingrich is on the up escalator.
Like I said, stay tuned.