As I’ve often said, conservative politics in the United States of America has nothing to do with free markets. It has a lot to do with identity politics and it has a lot to do with interest group politics. And speaking on the Martha Zoller radio show recently, thrice-married former House Speaker Newt Gingrich elegantly laid out the nexus between the two by explaining that it would be a mistake to take away oil companies’ tax subsidies because efforts to do so are part of a liberal plot to force everyone to “to live in big cities in high rises, taking mass transit.”
This whole problem of intellectuals who live on university campuses and take mass transit and then have no idea what the rest of the country is like. I mean, it’s nice to have a physicist as the Secretary of Energy, but maybe his experiences of real life on an everyday basis are the same as those of people who live in rural Georgia or people who live in north Georgia. I’m always reminded when people talk about Europe. I did my dissertation on Belgium. Belgium is one-third the size of South Carolina. So when you start talking about traveling in Europe, they’re not driving very far and they’re not driving cars that are very big. And that happens to be different han America on two grounds—we travel a long way and we like driving bigger vehicles. Now liberals don’t like us liking bigger vehicles, so they want to find a way to punish us economically. Hit our pocketbook, make us change, because they’d like all of us to live in big cities in high rises, taking mass transit. That’s their idealized utopia.
I’m not sure why Newt Gingrich feels the need to pad his resume here and pretend to have written a dissertation about Belgium. His dissertation was actually about Belgian Congo, a former colony currently known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is neither small nor located in Europe. Meanwhile, you hardly need to undertake graduate level study to ascertain that Belgium is a small country. By the same token, Rhode Island is a small state. South Carolina is about the size of Austria and considerably smaller than Spain or Italy. This is all irrelevant.
What’s not irrelevant is to say that it’s true that apartment-dwelling is more common in Europe than in the United States of America. It’s also true that transit commuting is done by a larger minorities of Europeans than of Americans. It’s also true that European car commuters drive shorter distances on average and drive more fuel efficient cars on average. And it’s true that this is in part because the United States does much more to subsidize oil companies. But who is it who’s forcing whose lifestyle on whom here? Gingrich wants you to believe that liberals have a dread plot to force everyone into apartments, but he’s the one pushing for subsidies and industrial policy oriented around fossil fuel extraction. If some people want to respond to a level playing field by living in apartments or taking a train to work, what’s wrong with that? And if it leaves European drivers with shorter car commutes then is that really such a dystopian nightmare?