“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Newt Gingrich's Glaring Weakness

The Wall Street Journal's lead staff editorial yesterday criticizing Newt Gingrich's stance on ethanol was entitled Professor Cornpone. It's priceless. And, if true, completely reverses my earlier preferences for Gingrich as the GOP presidential candidate in 2012.

Apparently Gingrich lashed out at the Journal, indirectly, in a speech to the Renewable Fuels Association in Des Moines, Iowa. The editorial contends, early on,

"Mr. Gingrich explained that "the big-city attacks" on ethanol subsidies are really attempts to deny prosperity to rural America, adding that "Obviously big urban newspapers want to kill it because it's working, and you wonder, 'What are their values?'"

Mr. Gingrich traced the roots of these supposed antipathies to the 1880s, an observation that he repeatedly tendered "as an historian." The Ph.D. and star pupil of futurist Alvin Toffler then singled out the Journal's long-held anti-ethanol views as "just plain flat intellectually wrong." "

I confess to not having known of the Toffler-Gingrich connection. But it doesn't matter. Gingrich is displaying an unfortunate politically-convenient streak in his remarks.

The piece continues,

"Here's how he put in Des Moines, with that special Gingrich nuance: "The morning that I see the folks who are worried about 'food versus fuel' worry about the cost of diesel fuel, worry about the cost of commodities on the world market, worry about the inflation the Federal Reserve is building into our system, all of which is going to show up as higher prices, worry about the inefficiencies of big corporations that manufacture and process food products—the morning they do that, I'll take them seriously."

The morning Mr. Gingrich read the offending editorial, if he did, he must have overlooked the part about precisely those concerns. He must have also missed our editorial last month raising the possibility that easy money was contributing to another asset bubble in the Farm Belt, especially in land prices. For that matter, he must have missed the dozens of pieces we've run in recent years critiquing Fed monetary policy.

Given that Mr. Gingrich aspires to be President, his ethanol lobbying raises larger questions about his convictions and judgment. The Georgian has been campaigning in the tea party age as a fierce critic of spending and government, but his record on that score is, well, mixed.

So along comes Mr. Gingrich to offer his support for Mr. Obama's brand of green-energy welfare, undermining House Republicans in the process. In his Iowa speak-power-to-truth lecture, he even suggested that the government should mandate that all new cars in the U.S. be flex-fuel vehicles—meaning those that can run on an ethanol-gas mix as high as 85%—as if King Corn were in any danger of being deposed.

Yet there are currently dozens of flex-fuel models on the market, and auto makers already get a benefit if they sell them, via the prior fuel-economy mandates that did so much to devastate Detroit. The problem is consumers rarely want to pay more for flex-fuel cars when they get 25% to 30% fewer miles per gallon with E85, according to Energy Department data.

Some pandering is inevitable in presidential politics, but, befitting a college professor, Mr. Gingrich insists on portraying his low vote-buying as high "intellectual" policy. This doesn't bode well for his judgment as a president. Even Al Gore now admits that the only reason he supported ethanol in 2000 was to goose his presidential prospects, and the only difference now between Al and Newt is that Al admits he was wrong."

Ouch! Being compared poorly to Al Gore should make Newt cringe.

Seriously, this piece has completely changed my view of the former Speaker of the House. His explanations concerning ethanol, which now soaks up immense amounts of corn that would have other uses, including food, are unbelievable. We don't need bogus uses for corn sending its price even higher when food inflation is on a tear.

I can't see Tea Partiers embracing a guy who calls for mandatory flex-fuel for all new US-made cars.

You can't make this stuff up. Could it really be that Gingrich's putative White House bid will founder on such a base slip-up as pandering to Iowa corn farmers by boosting ethanol subsidies?

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