Michael Kazin: Why a Gingrich vs. Obama Matchup Would Be Good For the Country

Roundup: Historians' Take

Michael Kazin is the author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation and co-editor of Dissent. He teaches history at Georgetown University.

I sincerely hope Newt Gingrich wins the Republican nomination for president: It could bring a healthy candor to our politics and end up boosting the fortunes of liberalism as well. Now, I realize the former Speaker may not be able to convert his current polling spurt into triumph over his main rival, that dodgy I’m-all-businessman, whose too-perfect hair and smile remind me of a middle-aged Ken doll. Gingrich has scant backing from prominent Republican office-holders; influential conservative pundits, such as Charles Krauthammer and George Will, detest him; he lacks a strong organization to get out the vote in the early caucus and primary states; and he made millions lobbying for institutions he now condemns.

But if Newt somehow manages to surmount these obstacles, imagine what a refreshing campaign he and Obama could wage. Gingrich has already vowed to challenge the president to hold lengthy debates—absent the usual moderators, with their tired Q & A format. Obama would have to agree, lest he seem cowardly. And this could set up the kind of campaign Americans have never witnessed before: a serious debate between articulate exponents of liberalism and conservatism—the ideological conflict that has shaped American politics since the emergence of a mass movement on the right in the 1950s....

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