"The fact is that the major problem in American government is intellectual. It is not money. It is not will power. It is knowledge." ~ Newt Gingrich speaking at The Heritage Foundation on August 16, 2011
Unshackled from campaign consultants, Newt is back on his game. He dominated the most recent Republican presidential debate. And, yesterday, he gave an outstanding speech at The Heritage Foundation on the federal deficit. Much of the speech was a critique of the Super Committee established by the recent debt ceiling deal. While outlining his case against the Committee, Speaker Gingrich zeroed in on the largest problem affecting our government: lack of knowledge. Should Americans be surprised by Newt's conclusion? No... not really.
It is hard to pin down the moment anti-intellectualism began in modern American politics. Maybe it was always lurking around... let's face it, campaign commercials, material, speeches are designed to appeal to emotions not intellect. Nevertheless, I don't recall anyone suggesting that experience or qualifications did not mattered when seeking, arguably, the most important elected position in the world. Until the 2008 presidential election cycle, that is...
Hillary Clinton spent years putting together a substantive political and policy resume. She was very visibility involved in the policy area during the Bill Clinton administration (well.. at least initially). After leaving the White House, she served seven years in the Senate before launching her presidential bid. And then Barack Obama came along. Younger, inspiring speaker but with very little experience. "Doesn't experience matter?" asked Governor Bill Richardson during the New Hampshire debate. The Democrat primary voters replied: "No!"
While the Democrats were busy turning experience into a negative so Obama could be their nominee, the Republicans seemed to hang on the idea that qualifications mattered. McCain was getting traction with his famous celebrity ads comparing Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. And then, for some inexplicable reason, the Republicans decided to join Democrats in their disdain for "experience" by nominating someone for the Vice Presidential spot with a resume as thin as Obama's. As Palin's lack of policy knowledge became more and more apparent with each interview, the GOP grassroots switched into "she is a real person" defense. And, to this day her supporters believe that only a "real person" can address the problems facing our country.
The effects of the 2008 campaign are felt each passing day as the American economy still struggles to get its footing. Our president is clearly in over his head and every other day we are told he is "pivoting to focus on jobs". The Republican field has several candidates with solid experience and deep records. Could it be that experience, knowledge matter again? Not so fast. Who was the first casualty of the GOP primary? Tim Pawlenty. A governor of a major blue state with a solid record. Who were the two top finishers in the Ames straw poll? Michelle Bachmann - whose legislative record is very thin - and Ron Paul - whose record consist of voting "nay" on just about everything.
Newt Gingrich is right. What ails our government is a lack of knowledge. It should be apparent to anyone watching our elected officials regurgitate the same old talking points while struggling to find solutions to our problems. But nothing will change as long as our disdain for knowledge, intellectual ability, experience persists. As long as wanting "real people" in office passes as rational thinking, our government will be mired in mediocrity. And WE THE PEOPLE are to blame.