Newt Gingrich’s love of history and respect for the accomplishments of previous presidents – he has said Franklin Roosevelt, not Ronald Reagan, was the greatest 20th century president – could get him into hot water with some Republicans.
It was Teddy Roosevelt who was very much in the news today. President Obama gave a speech in Kansas trying to emulate Roosevelt’s populism and nationalism 100 years after Roosevelt left the Republican Party to run for president in 1912 as a Progressive. Read more about Obama’s speech here.
Gingrich was on the other side of Teddy Roosevelt in history during a spirited radio interview with conservative Glenn Beck today. Gingrich was played a 2003 quote of himself in which he endorsed the idea of a mandate that Americans buy health insurance because a previous Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, who went on to become founder of the Progressive Party, endorsed it.
But it’s actually Franklin D. Roosevelt, who enlarged the government more than any other president, that Gingrich most admires.
Gingrich reached the heights of Washington power in 1995 when he became speaker of the House, the first Republican to hold the position in 40 years. In a speech to the House of Representatives, he outlined the need for spending cuts to balance the budget, which he thought should exempt Social Security. But he said Washington should not be afraid of cuts elsewhere. And to make that point he invoked F.D.R..
“But let me say about everything else, whether it is Medicare, or it is agricultural subsidies, or it is defense or anything that I think the greatest Democratic president of the 20th century, and in my judgment the greatest president of the 20th century, said it right. On March 4, 1933, he stood in braces as a man who had polio at a time when nobody who had that kind of disability could be anything in public life. He was president of the United States, and he stood in front of this Capitol on a rainy March day and he said, `We have nothing to fear but fear itself.`”
Elsewhere in that speech, Gingrich gave praise to Franklin Roosevelt for the style of his leadership, not his policies.
“The fact is that it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who gave hope to a nation that was in distress and could have slid into dictatorship. Every Republican has much to learn from studying what the Democrats did right,” Gingrich told the House of Representatives in 1995.
Gingrich’s view of FDR’s being the greatest 20th century president has not changed in the intervening years. Asked by Jake Tapper last month who the fifth president n Mt. Rushmore should be, Gingrich said he’d “go for five and six: F.D.R. and Reagan.” Read Tapper’s Interview with Gingrich.
On the radio, Gingrich was taking fire from conservative Glenn Beck for endorsing Teddy Roosevelt’s view on health reform.
“I were going to characterize my – on health where I come from, I’m a Theodore Roosevelt Republican and I believe government can lean in the regulatory leaning is okay,” he said in 2003.
It’s a view some conservatives find distressing. Beck told Gingrich that the idea of government regulation ”scares the crap out of me.”
Gingrich sought to distinguish between early Roosevelt, the Republican president, and later Roosevelt, the progressive.
“Well, that depends on which phase of Roosevelt you’re talking about. The 1912, he’s become a big government, centralized power advocate running an a third party candidate,” Gingrich said.
But he did defend Roosevelt for creating the Food and Drug Administration.
“For example, Roosevelt advocated the Food and Drug Act after he was eating … sausage and eggs while reading Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” which has a scene in which a man falls into a vat at the sausage factory and becomes part of the sausage. And if you go back to that era, where people had dealing with the Chinese where the people had doctored food, they had put all sorts of junk in food, they, you know, I as a child who lived in Europe and I always marveled at the fact that American water is drinkable virtually anywhere. So there are minimum regulatory standards of public health and safety that are I think really important.”
“OK,” Beck asked, “so you’re a minimum regulation guy on making sure the people don’t fall into the vats of sausage?”