Review: Woods on Gingrich

by Eric T. Phillips

With Newt Gingrich’s recent rise in the polls, I figured it would be a good time to revisit my review of Tom Woods’ latest book, Rollback, which exposes Gingrich as the big government ideologue he really is.

Back in February, I wrote:

Conservative Republicans say they want to cut the size of government. But because they largely accept the premises that the American Leviathan is built on, they shy away from radical plans to reign in the power of the state. Thomas Woods clearly wrote his latest book, Rollback, in an attempt to shake self-proclaimed small government conservatives out of their dogmatic slumber where they kid themselves into believing that defense spending is too low, that the Drug War is winnable, and that ending earmarks will actually help balance the budget.

Republicans, of course, are not the only misguided ones. Woods, for example, reproduces the results of a Time/CNN poll taken in December 1995, which found that 47 percent of Americans believed that “the cuts in federal spending proposed by the Republicans in Congress” had “gone too far.” What were these cuts? Republicans proposed increasing federal spending by “only” $350 billion over seven years, as opposed to the Democrats’ plan for a $500 billion increase. And who is one of the Tea Party’s favored presidential candidates for 2012? None other than the architect of the planned $350 billion dollar increase, Newt Gingrich. (The other favorite, Mitt Romney, signed into law a state-level version of Obamacare during his tenure as Massachusetts governor).

In his first chapter, Woods catalogues how this farce of a two party system has left the government with shockingly unsustainable debts and obligations. The rest of the book is dedicated to attacking the sacred cows most responsible for this disastrous situation: the Fed, entitlements, the defense budget, and the entire regulatory apparatus. Building on many of the historical arguments he made in his Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask, Woods cites legions of studies, little known facts, and neglected conservative, libertarian, and even liberal scholars to bolster his case for dismantling the federal government and building a free society.

Of course, Woods’s prescriptions will be derided as extreme and politically unrealistic by all the usual characters in Congress and the media. These establishment types, however, are not Rollback‘s intended audience. Woods is extremely skeptical of what he calls the “the writing-policy-studies strategy, the voting-for-the-guy-who-gives-a-good-speech strategy, [and] the waiting-for-the-Supreme-Court-to-declare-anything-at-all-unconstitutional strategy.” He suggests instead pursuing state nullification, jury nullification, the Free State Project, agorism, and debt repudiation. All these strategies are decentralized approaches to delegitimizing the state through peaceful noncompliance.

Woods explains that he wrote this book with the following question in mind: “What do I wish I myself had known 20 years ago, so that I wouldn’t have had to come by all this information so laboriously on my own?” In this sense, he has succeeded. The book contains a tremendous amount of useful citations for anyone with an interest in policy beyond partisan talking points. The thirty pages of notes in the back are alone worth the price of the book.

As an addendum, I quote directly from the book:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has a reputation for being a right-wing ideologue. But it is surely a strange right-wing ideologue who credits Franklin Roosevelt with lifting the country out of the Great Depression, joins with John Kerry on “climate change,” and supports (among many other things) the Medicare prescription drug benefit, federal programs to pay for more teachers, Internet access for every American, and rewards to students who take challenging math and science courses — not to mention his sympathy for federal energy policy and Hillary Clinton’s proposed national health-care database, among other things….

[In 1994,] the GOP leadership made the [election] into a referendum on [Gingrich's] “Contract with America,” a series of proposals the party pledged to champion if elected. Democrats and Republicans alike pretended it was a radical assault on government spending and activity — Democrats in order to frighten their base, and Republicans in order to energize theirs. The Contract was, in fact, a hodgepodge of trivial changes that both kept the basic structure of the American Leviathan intact and neutralized the more ambitious plans and proposals of freshman congressmen who may actually have wanted to change something. The center-left Brookings Institution had it right: “Viewed historically, the Contract represents the final consolidation of the bedrock domestic policies and programs of the New Deal, the Great Society, the post-Second World War defense establishment, and, most importantly, the deeply rooted national political culture that has grown up around them.”

As Lew Rockwell says, you should never trust a man named after a lizard. Or a lizard-like aquatic amphibian.

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