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CATO on Newt

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Gene Healy is having his say about the presidential hopeful.

First the “good”…

Say what you will about Newt Gingrich, but he has that rare political gift: he sounds captivating and forceful even while talking complete dreck. I witnessed that up close a couple of years ago when I crashed a meeting of conservative activists, and saw Gingrich take the floor to urge everyone to get behind the president’s prescription-drug bill. Given that the plan represented the greatest expansion of the welfare state since the Great Society, you’d think this would be a tough sell. But to hear Gingrich tell it, signing onto the president’s bill would be a stroke of genius for limited government activists.

Now, the reality…

Those talents were on display again yesterday morning, when the former Speaker appeared on Meet the Press to play coy about his presidential aspirations. He may or may not be running; but as always, he’s pushing Big Ideas. Among the highlights: “The only exit strategy in Iraq is victory.â€Â? That’s right: and the only treatment for cancer is remission. […]

And, as always, Newt is preaching the unity theme while not necessarily practicing it…

He also talked a bit about his latest passion: creating some kind of bipartisan debate or series of debates that would in turn create “a wave of new ideas, a wave of new solutions. And see how that ferments.� Apparently, the catchphrase for this crusade is “Real change requires real change.� Which is less a slogan than a mind-blowing zen koan.

Listen, Newt does have some good ideas. There’s no doubt about that. But he’s a politician through and through, so handle his centrist proclamations with lead-lined gloves.

Don’t believe me? Well, if you want to trace the rhetoric wars back to their heyday in the early 90s, the road leads back to his office where he wielded that broad partisan brush indiscriminately. Yes, he could have turned a corner…but…

Voters of 2008, until I see or hear something truly compelling for the Newt…caveat emptor.