A desperate and angry Newt Gingrich has relinquished his remaining grip on smart primary campaigning and unleashed an all out assault on Mitt Romney's economic record – and, by association, capitalism. Gingrich's attacks on Romney's experience, however, only serve to undermine Gingrich's stance as a responsible, non-negative campaigner and isolate him from the sensible Republican voters whom he needs to court to have any chance at receiving the GOP nomination.
However, aside from the damage that such attacks seem to be having on Gingrich's campaign, this anti-capitalist line of campaigning is causing monumental damage to the very economic basis that the Republicans are supposed to defend. In his quest to take down his rival, Gingrich is relying on the same Occupy Wall Street-style rhetoric that dominates the left. (To be fair, Governor Rick Perry has resorted to similar tactics, as the WSJ reports.)
The pernicious results are, at least, twofold. First, these attacks greatly help the Obama campaign. These are the precise attacks that the anti-freedom, anti-capitalist forces of the left will unleash on Romney come the general election. There could not be a better way to bolster their argument than by dishing it out for them. As the presumptive nominee, Romney will have an uphill battle to convince those who succumb to the easy anti-capitalist rhetoric that bashes the free market system. Obama can only be gleeful to have help in his mission in the form of Newt Gingrich.
Secondly, and arguably more importantly, Gingrich's attacks solidify misconceptions and distortions about how the free market works. The underlying assumption in his argument is the same as those held by the worst populists in OWS and the anti-Wall Street fringes of the Tea Party. The central argument is that somehow those who have money must justify their possession based on some social, communal good. This is simply false. The freedoms of the American political system guarantee that individuals have the right to their property. Provided they do not engage in illegal activities, individuals have no obligation to justify their earnings to the state in any regards. In other words, the rich, the middle-class, or the poor, need not demonstrate a social purpose or benefit from their occupation in order for the state to deem it acceptable. A free market functions precisely because no government body determines these things.
However many populists and the left implicitly rely upon this assumption when attacking the "rich." Accordingly, they argue that financiers cannot justify a socially-beneficial purpose and thus their "unjustly" earned wealth should be, at least partially, relinquished to the state. Gingrich has gone on record stating that the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Sam Walton deserve their billions because they invented something real. By contrast, goes the argument, Wall Street is just a "handful of rich people [who] manipulate the lives of thousands of other people and walk off with the money...."
This is a gross distortion of the role that finance plays in a capitalist system. Finance is an essential service – it moves capital from those who possess it to those who can use it best. It allows entrepreneurs, who do not possess the needed resources, to obtain them fairly and efficiently. And like anything in business, sometimes it succeeds and sometimes it fails. Capitalism's success is not because it always creates jobs, but that it allows resources to be successfully and most efficiently allocated to the right places, something no one person or institution (government) could do alone. This inherently implies hiring and firing, buying and selling, and investing and divesting. Firing, for instance, moves labor from an area that does not need it and thus frees it up to be used in a more productive fashion.
But Gingrich's attack plays into the leftist and populist rhetoric that ignores the importance of finance. Not only does it confuse voters who are unfamiliar with finance, providing fodder for the left to continue the myth that finance and Wall Street are greedy robbers that need to be stopped by the government (Progressive blogs have jumped on this Gingrich quote.) but it does a great disservice to the purported Republican goal of changing the direction of this country.
Gingrich should be ashamed at such low-brow politics. As an academic and a genuinely smart guy, he must know that the quest to hold political office should not undermine the long-term goals of righting the direction of this country. Relying upon political expediency rather than education only reinforces the anti-free market myths that dominate the public sphere. Republicans have unfortunately excelled far too much at this game. They choose to battle on the Democrats' terrain, using leftist arguments and thus continuously fighting on the defensive. The GOP will only be able to transform this country if it starts to think for itself, if it directly targets these sort of implicit assumptions that underline much of the political dialogue and replaces them with truth. Gingrich's behavior flies in the opposite direction by not just failing to break down the "Wall Street" is bad assumption but strengthening it.