Newt Gingrich has figured out that “over-communicating” is key to being heard in the era of many channels and a shattered audience. He also has grasped in a way that few others have –perhaps only Huckabee and Romney among Republicans get this key point– that when direct questions are asked, they should be answered directly. There is enormous communicative power in candid, straightforward responses.
My conversation with Newt yesterday featured many such exchanges, and the audience loved it as a result. But there was one sequence where Newt responded to questions with questions or non-responsive answers, a very unusual tactic for him. Here’s the exchange:
HH: Over at www.newt.org, there is a headline that says heading toward a dictatorship? You don’t really believe that, do you, Mr. Speaker?
NG: Well, I believe that when you get up in the morning and discover that the President has fired the head of one company, and you ask yourself how many other companies can he fire the head of, and when you have Senator Dodd deciding what salary caps ought to be, and you have the Congress deciding to take back money after the fact in a direct violation of the Constitution, how much total bureaucratic management of your life do you need before you begin to worry about how the system is working? Now I do think that we are seeing an enormous transfer of power to politicians and bureaucrats, and that many of them will use it corruptly or dangerously, and capriciously. Read what they said about Chrysler yesterday.
HH: But the word dictatorship carries with it a specific image that does alarm…I’m thinking especially of senior citizens and people who are worried about that sort of thing, and I get those e-mails, and you get them as well, and while I think we want to resist statism and creeping managed capitalism which is an oxymoron, that it’s not really dictatorship, is it?
NG: Well, look, if somebody came in, if the Congress can come in, single you out and take 90% of your income, tell me what it is. If the Secretary of the Treasury can decide who to fire and who to hire, which companies to destroy and which companies to keep, I mean, if the government can say okay, fire the head of GM, and by the way, Chrysler will cut a deal with Fiat or they will be out of business, you tell me what it is. I mean, yesterday, the President decided unilaterally to announce a warranty for new cars as of today.
Read the whole thing. If we were headed for a dictatorship, a simple “yes” would have sufficed, but of course we aren’t, so some fancy verbal work was necessary.
Newt probably didn’t come up with the headline at Newt.org, and I suspect some young staffer is going to get some advice on careful choice of words, even for headlines. Conservatives have to avoid mirroring the left’s conduct during the Bush Presidency when it was routine to indulge in reckless hyperbole about Bush’s policies. We don’t need any equivalents to the MoveOn.org’s “General Betrayus” meltdown, and we don’t want any frothing, spittle-spewing conservative Olbermann embarrassing us on a nightly basis. There are an enormous number of legitimate targets for sharp criticism and lots of tough words to deliver about the massive expansion of government underway without falling into a fever.