A Further Perspective

Raking Fire on the Stern

The GOP's kaleidoscopic primary gets serious.

By 1.27.12

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While reading a tale of adventure and combat on the high seas, say a novel by Patrick O'Brian or C.S. Forester, I can recall a vivid description of two ships of the line, engaged in a deadly duel, in which one of the vessels manages to inflict a particularly crushing fusillade on its opponent, described in a phrase both gripping and terrifying: "raking fire on the stern."

Since all the guns in the ships of the Napoleonic era were on the sides, the stern was particularly vulnerable and the continuous fire brought to bear on it was devastating. Of course, if the attacker was not careful, he might be outmaneuvered and find himself at the mercy of his previously vulnerable opponent.

For reasons not very hard to fathom, thoughts of raking fire and other unpleasant things seem to impinge on my consciousness while considering the Republican presidential primary.   

The GOP contest is getting serious. Amateur night is over. There are basically two contenders, meaning no disrespect to Senator Santorum who has conducted himself honorably while articulating values important to this writer at least. 

However, we also have a contender who, like Napoleon, has been in extended exile for many years, and now has returned to Paris, scratch that, South Carolina and points south, to rally the populace against an opponent he seeks to smear as the embodiment of money-grubbing capitalism who, horrors, does not pay more taxes than the law requires of him. Moreover, that opponent, the capitalist that is, was a successful one who garnered efficiencies, generated growth, multiplied jobs and created value for investors -- including pension funds which, gentle reader, you may have some stake in seeing prosper.

It is obvious, but nevertheless important, to note that our latter-day Napoleon does not cite any violations of law or ethics that would anyway impugn the integrity of his target. Still, he generates a lot of smoke to create the impression that something must be wrong, after all, the fellow made a lot of money, right? He has become a stalking horse of Obama and the Democrats.

Of course, this neo-Napoleon also made a lot of money, although a lot less than the target of his demagogic attacks. But just about every dollar he earned, with the exception of a few books he coauthored, was basically built on whatever residual influence, maybe even some insight, he might have in or on our imperial city on the Potomac. What exactly was the value added to the commonwealth by holding hands for various large corporations or playing court historian for the proximate cause of our housing market meltdown -- for $1.6 million!

Full disclosure time: In June, on this very website, I opined that "Newt has not yet come to grips with the fact that he is a dead man walking." I got that one wrong. That comes from living in Washington for ten years, I guess.  In truth, I did not think much of the former Speaker of the House before his most recent tirades against free market actors such as Governor Romney. Here's a test: of his countless ideas, schemes, programs and other pronouncements, name two of Newt Gingrich's top ideas which ring your bell. I mean other than his shot at GOP House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) for social engineering. 

In retrospect, Ryan's retort to Gingrich appears to have been prophetic. "With allies like that, who needs the left," quipped Ryan.

Newt has certainly risen from the dead, but what we have now is a fellow who is willing to destroy the most crucial argument for removing President Obama and his congressional caucus from power and subvert the fundamental premise of the party of Lincoln: the need to restore primacy to the free market and civil society, without undue burdens of taxation and regulation, which is essential for liberty to prevail in the land of the free.

Even if Newt Gingrich wins the primary, he will certainly lose in November, not just because of historically low approval ratings, but because he has undermined the very rationale for Republican governance.

I live in Virginia where Gingrich did not make it on the ballot, which will relieve me of the temptation to cast a purely negative vote. I will, be voting for Mitt Romney. He has succeeded where the former Speaker did not -- in the realms of family and commerce.  

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.