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Occupy Richmond: Meditations on Adam Smith

Does Character Matter?

Jonathan B. Wight

David Brooks presents an account of Newt Gingrich's flirtation with government economic policies in "The Gingrich Tragedy." Turns out Gingrich favors interventionist industrial policies, linking them in his own mind to the nationalistic achievements of Alexander Hamilton and Teddy Roosevelt.

Gingrich has an active imagination—too active if that implies thinking up new things for government to do—like setting up a lunar mining colony and building giant mirrors in space to light up the night sky. As Brooks notes, "He has no Hayekian modesty to restrain his faith in statist endeavor."

Nor does Gingrich worry too much about facts. His latest Civil War novel apparently writes out of Virginia's history the massacre of black Union soldiers at the Petersburg Battle of the Crater (see Kevin M. Levin in The Atlantic, "How Newt's New Novel Plays Politics With the Past"). If truth doesn't fit the cliché you're pitching of American exceptionalism, well… make up some new facts! [A writer of historical novels has different moral obligations than a writer of alternative history. Gingrich has apparently blended the genres.]

Newt's boyish enthusiasm and willingness to think grandly can be admired, if these qualities were tempered with other virtues. But Brooks ultimately rejects Gingrich's presidential candidacy not for its policies but for the man who represents them. Brooks concludes:

"But how you believe something is as important as what you believe. It doesn't matter if a person shares your overall philosophy. If that person doesn't have the right temperament and character, stay away."


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